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True professionals

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – Every team needs good soldiers. Fortunately, the Canadiens boast two of the best in the business.

Veterans Mike Weaver and Manny Malhotra haven’t seen much playing time as of late, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing everything possible to contribute to the success of the team on a daily basis. That’s just the way they’re wired, and it’s an exercise the pair has mastered when similar situations have arisen over the course of their respective careers which span nearly three decades between them.

“I think my whole entire career has forced me to be at the top of my game anytime I actually had the opportunity to play. I always looked at it as preparation meeting opportunity. That’s what you’re going for,” confided Weaver, who has been a healthy scratch for 18 of the Canadiens’ last 25 games, including the last five in a row. “You’re trying to stay in shape. You’re trying to prepare yourself for when that opportunity arises to be able to hop in there and play unnoticed out there. That’s when I’m at my best.”

And, that’s exactly how Weaver was playing before he suffered a concussion back on December 6 in Dallas. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been used regularly since. While the 36-year-old admits that the situation has been particularly frustrating, experience has taught him that focusing on the positives is the best approach under these circumstances.

“It’s been tough, but you’ve got to look at a lot of other things with this team. We’ve got an opportunity to do something great this year. I’ve never been on a team as good as this before. We’re winning. We’re a team that’s dangerous on the ice and fun to watch. That’s what matters,” shared the 13-year NHL veteran, who has 630 regular season games under his belt with the Thrashers, Kings, Canucks, Blues, Panthers and the Canadiens.

“Obviously, you don’t want to do as much watching as playing. I think I’ve built a reputation throughout the league as a great guy on the ice and a great guy off it. I bring a serious, but lighter side to the game,” added the Brampton, ON native, who is just three points shy of reaching the 100-point plateau for his career. “There’s always a balance to everything. I try and keep myself as balanced as I can. Also, I’ve got a family, too. When you leave the rink, it’s great to be able to think about something else.”

At the rink, Weaver is all business, though, readying himself for a return to active duty at a moment’s notice.

“You’re just working out a lot more in the weight room and staying on the ice a little longer with the assistant coaches. Some people ask me if I travel with the team or if I practice with the team. During the first period, I’m working out. The second and third, I’m watching the game. I think you’re just as part of the team when you’re not playing. I think the guys that are not in the lineup are playing a very important role. They need to be positive,” emphasized Weaver, who was the Canadiens’ most-utilized penalty killer during the 2014 playoffs, in addition to leading the team with 50 blocked shots in 17 postseason games. “You’re a vital part where if someone gets injured, you need to get back in there. Twenty-four hours isn’t enough to be prepared. That’s never going to happen. It’s all about you going ahead and making strides every day to become better so once you’re given the green light, you can hit the ground running.”

At 34 years of age, Malhotra is certainly in agreement there, stressing the importance of keeping your routine the same even if you know full well that you might be taking in a string of tilts from the press box.

“It’s always hard. Athletes are very proud people. You want to be out there. It’s never fun being in the stands. That doesn’t change my attitude when I get to the rink, though,” explained the Mississauga, ON native, who, like Weaver, has watched the Canadiens’ last five outings from afar. “The most important thing is to stay the same way I’ve always been in the room.”

That includes taking some time out from working on his own game as of late to teach young gun Jacob De La Rose a few tricks of the trade in the faceoff circle.

“That’s what being a team is all about,” mentioned the 16-year NHL veteran, who is just 21 games shy of reaching the 1,000 games played mark for his career. “As a teammate, you give what you have for the team and you hope it will help someone out.”

Interestingly enough, both Weaver and Malhotra could be in the Canadiens’ lineup as soon as Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre. While Weaver took Tom Gilbert’s spot alongside Alexei Emelin at practice on Friday afternoon, Malhotra centered the fourth line.

If they do get the call on Valentine’s Day for the first time since February 1, one thing’s for certain – they’ll be ready.

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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