MONTREAL - Before establishing himself in Montreal on a full-time basis, Shea Weber still has one more goal to accomplish in another uniform.
The majority of Canadiens fans probably haven't had a chance to fully appreciate Weber's incredible work and overall impact on the ice. The exception might be when the Canadiens have gone up against the Nashville Predators twice a year during the regular season, or when Weber patrolled the blue line for Team Canada at the last two Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Sochi.
Over the coming weeks, Weber will once again sport the traditional red and white colors of Team Canada. This time, it'll be for the World Cup of Hockey. Eleven years after making his debut for the Canadian side, the Sicamous, BC native is still as fired up as ever at the prospect of helping his country finish atop the podium in international competition.
"Every time you get the chance to put your nation's sweater on, your adrenaline is pumping and you're excited. No matter if you're 19, 30 or 40 years old, it's such a special opportunity that you never want to take for granted," mentioned Weber, who represented Canada for the first time in his career at the age of 19 at the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship. "I think [competitions like that] bring out the best in all players, to be honest. It's the best of the best. If you want to compete and if you want to help your nation win, you have to bring your best game. It's been a coming out party for a lot of guys and I think it's going to continue to be like that."
Before joining his teammates in Montreal at the beginning of October, Weber will make his way to Ottawa to meet up with the rest of head coach Mike Babcock's contingent for a short training camp ahead of the start of the tournament on September 17th. The defenseman will be seeing a few familiar faces in the locker room with whom he's won several international competitions since the World Juniors.
While the degree of familiarity between players could play a big role during a short tournament like the World Cup, Weber still can't believe that after enjoying so much success with more than a few current Team Canada members all those years ago, he'll have another shot at international hockey glory with those same players by his side.
It's hard to believe. When you look back, a lot of those guys were in that 2003 [NHL] Draft and people talk about how many great players came out from that year. It's crazy that this age group and those guys, we've all played together and hopefully we can keep it going and keep things rolling in Canada this year," stressed Weber, who will suit up with former 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship teammates Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf and Jeff Carter. "I don't' feel old. Maybe when I start feeling old, I'll start thinking about it. I still feel good and the body still feels good. I feel young at heart."
Weber's resume on the international scene is rather impressive: a gold medal at the World Juniors, a gold and silver medal at the World Hockey Championship in 2007 and 2009, respectively, and two Olympic titles in 2010 and 2014. With a list of accomplishments like that, the soon-to-be 12-year NHL veteran admits that he's had trouble choosing which one stands out the most. One in particular, though, has a special significance.
"If I had to pick one, it would have to be winning gold at the Vancouver Olympics. Not taking anything away from Sochi or the World Junior Hockey Championship, of course. They were great performances and great teams as well, but winning at home was a special feeling, especially in my home province with all of my family there," shared Weber, who was named to the All-Star squad at the Winter Olympics in 2010. "I'm sure the fans will be just as crazy and passionate as they were in Vancouver. You know how passionate Canada is at international events. People get behind their country."
When the World Cup begins, Weber will find himself in familiar territory because the only acceptable result from the Canadian public will once again be top spot - nothing less. Having experienced the pressure of plying his trade on home soil in 2010 and defending a title in 2014, the 31-year-old knows how to deal with being in the spotlight all of the time.
What he'll soon experience in Toronto won't be any different than his previous appearances with Team Canada. That's why the challenge ahead doesn't intimidate him at all.
"I think it's pressure on both stages. Obviously, Canada expects their team to win and we have such pride in our hockey program," said Weber, who will serve as one of two alternate captains for Team Canada along with Jonathan Toews, helping out captain Sidney Crosby. "Any time you put on this jersey there's pressure, and you just have to learn to deal with it. I was fortunate to have played on the international scene at a younger age and got some experience."
The World Cup will afford Weber the opportunity not only to hone his game before the start of the NHL regular season, but also to familiarize himself even more with his future Canadiens teammate, Carey Price . The two veterans have known one another for quite a while and they were both clutch in Sochi, but the newly-minted Canadiens No. 6 is pleased that they'll be Montreal-bound together at the end of the tournament.
"Carey is one of the best goalies in the world and he's proven that over the years. His place speaks for itself. Just to know that you have a guy back there so steady, not only that, but he plays the puck so well, too," concluded Weber on the subject of his offseason training partner who he'll be seeing every day in Montreal. "As a defenseman, it's a big thing for him to be able to do to help your game out. I'm looking forward to playing with him on a full-time basis now."