MONTREAL - If you're looking for Mike Weaver, these days you'll find him back on home turf in Toronto. But, the former defenseman will always have a special place in his heart reserved just for Montreal.
After being acquired by the Canadiens at the trade deadline in March 2014, Weaver quickly took to the city - and the fans quickly took to him, both on and off the ice.
Almost three years years after hanging up his skates, the 40-year-old Bramalea, ON native still can't stop smiling when he thinks back to his stint with the CH.
"By far, the best thing that happened to my career was to come to Montreal. Just the whole feeling of the city, the people and the fans were just amazing. My Twitter feed went from 2,000 to 4,000 followers in a matter of hours," cracked Weaver, who always made a conscious effort to interact with the Habs' faithful on social media. "It was an amazing experience being in such a hockey town. The passion and the history is something I'm going to remember forever."
Video: Name That Flick Duel ft. Gallagher and Weaver
Truth be told, though, Weaver's tenure on the Canadiens' back end didn't exactly get off to the strongest of starts.
"I remember coming over and my first game was in Phoenix. On my first shift, I ended up getting scored on, which wasn't good," recalled the 11-year NHL veteran, whose clearing attempt along the boards was intercepted by former Habs forward Kyle Chipchura, fed to current blueliner David Schlemko, and eventually tipped in by Radim Vrbata during a 5-2 loss in Arizona. "But, it was still amazing to just put that jersey on."
Six weeks later, Weaver and the Canadiens began a memorable playoff journey that the Michigan State University grad labels "one of the most amazing experiences ever."
After eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning in four straight games in Round 1, a classic postseason matchup with the Boston Bruins was on tap in Round 2.
That series, of course, ended up going the distance after the Canadiens rallied back from a 3-2 series deficit to ultimately down their Original Six Rivals in the decisive contest at TD Garden.
"Beating Boston in Game 7, that was our Stanley Cup right there," said Weaver, who suited up for all 17 playoff games that spring, chipping in with one goal, four points and a team-leading 50 blocked shots along the way. "Every single game, I remember all the moments. I remember every part of it. I remember the feeling of getting up in the morning and being so excited to put on the uniform and get out there and battle against them. It was pretty remarkable."
As was the group as a whole, according to Weaver. He insists that the closeness of the players was an integral part of their magical run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
"I thought it was just the dressing room, the caring for everybody. You could feel it in the room. It seemed like it was just right," explained Weaver, on his final postseason experience. "It was just one of those years when it seemed like it was our year."
While the 2013-14 campaign didn't culminate in a Stanley Cup parade down Saint-Catherine Street, Weaver wouldn't trade those first few months with the Habs for anything in the world.
They rejuvenated the NHL journeyman, who'd already made stops in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Vancouver, St. Louis and Florida.
"Coming to Montreal really brought back the fun in the game for me, and it brought back the love of the game. It's something I'm going to cherish for the rest of my life," praised Weaver, who played just 31 regular-season games with the Canadiens the following season before announcing his retirement in October 2015. "I know my family enjoyed it, too."
Life after hockey has been good to Weaver, but he does miss the game. There's no question about that.
"Retirement's tough. I was preparing for it, but you're never prepared for that. At the end of the day, it's very emotional to step away. Your whole life, you've basically been focusing on one thing," explained Weaver, who continues to stay connected to his profession in a number of ways. "I have my hockey school, which is called Defense First, and I have my coaching platform, which is called Coach Them. Back in Toronto, I was on Leafs Lunch [on TSN], and if they had a Montreal Canadiens Lunch, I'd be on that, too. I want to stay involved and it just allows me to give back to the great game of hockey."