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Weight Behind the Bench

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Just days after the New York Islanders announced Doug Weight would miss the remainder of the season due to a lingering back injury, the team captain surprised fans and media as he appeared behind the bench wearing a suit and tie.

“Really, I’m just trying to be positive reinforcement to the guys,” Weight said. “I get along well with them, but I’m also just trying to get a little experience back there to see what it is like. I’m not reading too much into it, the coaches are just letting me be a part of the game while we finish up the year. I’ve enjoyed it.”

And so have the players. Islanders power forward Jesse Joensuu says Weight’s observations and comments mean a lot to him, especially because Weight was one of his favorite players growing up.

“For younger guys like me, it’s a big thing to see how he behaved and handled himself (as a player), even though he’s not playing anymore,” Joensuu said. “With him being on the bench, it’s really something.”

Doug Weight #93 of the New York Islanders looks on during a break in game action against the Toronto Maple Leafs October 18, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
The 19-year NHL veteran hasn’t formally announced his retirement, although he told the media last week that he’s leaning that way. Thus, many fans have looked at this new role as foreshadowing for next season, where the Islanders center could potentially take up post as the newest member of the Islanders coaching staff.

“I think coaching is a real art with guys at this level, who are as successful as they are and trying to pass along a message without being a turn off,” Weight said. “So it’s tough. That’s a challenge for those guys (Jack Capuano, Scott Allen and Dean Chynoweth). Whether or not that’s something I want to pursue, I don’t really know at this point.”

Even after playing 1,238 NHL games, the forward called his experience behind the bench an education.

“I’ve been learning every shift,” Weight said. “It doesn’t matter that I’ve been a part of the game since I was two years old and I’ve seen a million hockey games. Every shift is different. It’s such a fast sport. This is definitely an education for me.”

Weight continued, “As far as setting up for the team’s forecheck and neutral zone coverage, I kind of listen to what the coaches are looking at from the opposing team and how they try to combat it (during practice). Then, during the game, I watch how it’s working.”

The 23-year-old Joensuu from Pori, Finland cracked the Islanders lineup for the first time in 2008-09, the same season Weight arrived on Long Island. Now he’s explained what it’s been like having his childhood idol there for guidance during different game scenarios.

“The coaches tell you advice, but when a guy with that experience and a legend in the hockey world is telling you something, it’s just something you really put in your mind and try to do on the ice,” Joensuu said. “It’s a great thing for him being around still, instead of being home. He’s still a big part of the team and we definitely like that.”

In the past four games, Weight hasn’t taken a back seat. Instead, he’s seized every opportunity to help his teammates in game-time situations.

“I’ve been quite outspoken on the bench, talking to the guys a lot about each shift and mostly just being positive and trying to pump them up through these last few games, to get their best out of them,” Weight said.

For Joensuu, having the opportunity to even play with Weight was an incredible experience, and it even made him relive some childhood memories of the two-time Olympian, four-time All-Star and Stanley Cup champion. 

“My favorite players were from the Oilers,” Joensuu said about his childhood. “They were (Wayne) Gretzky, Ryan Smyth and Doug Weight. (When I was 13), I remember telling my dad, because I read from some sports magazine in Finland, that ‘Dad, the Oilers can’t keep Dougie anymore. Dougie is too good. They can’t afford him.’

Jesse Joensuu #58 of the New York Islanders passes the puck against Chris Kelly #23 of the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on April 6, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Joensuu continued, “Then Dougie left the Oilers (at the end of the 2000-01 season) and I didn’t follow him as much anymore, but it was cool to play with him. I played on the same line as him for a couple games my first year.”

But after a combined two season total of 18 NHL games (2 goals, 2 assists), Joensuu has played a career-high 40 games for the Islanders this season, getting his first call-up after several Islanders forwards were ridden with season-ending injuries.

Since then, he’s put up a career-high eight points (6 goals, 2 assists). And for the first time in his young career, Joensuu scored goals in back-to-back games. Those games were also the same time his childhood idol first appeared behind the Islanders bench. After that second game, Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said Joensuu was the team’s best forward in that night’s contest.

So like all young players who are hoping to have long, successful NHL careers, having an experienced veteran behind the bench who has gone through the rigors of a long NHL career only helps. For Joensuu, this new role has definitely given him more respect for Weight.

“His advice is usually positive, which I think is because he was a player earlier this year. He knows that positivity might go a longer way than the negative,” Joensuu said. “The tips are usually more offensive too because he was an offensive player. So you’re definitely going to listen when he’s saying something.”

The experienced veteran of 1,238 games, 1,033 points, three Olympic Games (one silver medal), four All-Star appearances, has flipped the roles and is the rookie once again. No longer is he strapping on his jersey tie-down, but instead he is doing up his tie.
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