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Shea Weber shines in spotlight he dislikes

Canadiens defenseman scores tying goal in emotional return to Nashville

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

NASHVILLE -- This is not the Shea Weber we are used to seeing.

His fans here, his fans in Montreal, his fans everywhere see Weber as a stoic figure, an incredible competitor who is all business when he is on the ice, who will do everything necessary to win.

They do not see Weber struggling to contain his emotions, appearing to hold back tears.

Weber surely has moments like this in his life, but we are not privy to them. We see him when he is playing hockey games, whether it was over the first 11 seasons of his NHL career with the Nashville Predators or this season with the Montreal Canadiens.

Weber was back in Nashville on Tuesday for the first time since the Predators traded him to the Canadiens on June 29 for defenseman P.K. Subban, the first opportunity fans here had to say "thank you" to a player who was captain for six years and left an indelible mark on the community.

At the first television timeout, the Predators played a video tribute to Weber, and the sellout crowd of 17,113 gave him a standing ovation.

Everyone on the Canadiens bench also stood up, banged their sticks on the boards, and looked up to watch the video.

Everyone except Weber.

He stood looking straight ahead of him, taking long, deep breaths in an attempt to keep it together. Every now and then he would peek up, but not for long.

Video: MTL@NSH: Nashville says thank you to Shea Weber

There was a game to play. There was a game to win. And that's where he wanted his focus to be.

The video and the atmosphere in the building was making that difficult.

"I didn't want to look at the video, to be honest with you," Weber said. "I was a little bit afraid I might get emotional. It meant a lot, it was really special.

"It was special to be back in this building where I spent a lot of years, and even better that we got the win."

Weber was visibly more relaxed after the game than he had been in the days leading up to it, when all the attention was being heaped on him with his former and current teams speaking in glowing terms about him. It is a situation that makes Weber uncomfortable; he prefers to talk about his teammates, or his team, or baseball, or fantasy football.

Anything other than himself.

Video: MTL@NSH: Weber roofs a wrister in return to Nashville

But then Weber went out and proved everyone who had talked about him over the previous days right, playing one of his best games in a Canadiens uniform to help them to a 2-1 win in overtime.

Weber scored the tying goal in the third period on a perfect pass from another former Nashville player who had an incredible game while being booed mercilessly by the crowd all night, Alexander Radulov.

While Weber was on the ice at 5-on-5, the Predators attempted eight shots toward the Montreal net. The Canadiens attempted 25.

Earlier in the day, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien spoke of how Weber's mere presence makes everyone around him better, how when he walks in to a room everyone knows it's business, how having Weber around the team makes his job as coach much easier.

So it was appropriate that on a night that meant so much to Weber, the Canadiens played just about as good of a road game as they can play, outshooting the Predators 43-23 and dominating the puck all night.

"The way our players played shows the respect that we've got for him," Therrien said.

Video: Weber, Radulov power Habs to 2-1 OT win against Preds

The main reason this game was so highly anticipated across the NHL was not only Weber's return to Nashville, but it also was a chance to see the results of the trade that sent him to Montreal play out head to head.

That never materialized because Subban is injured, and in a way it was a good thing because it gave Weber center stage, even if that's a spot he doesn't particularly like.

But earlier in the day, Subban and Weber each spoke to the media, and in so doing gave a glimpse of what makes them so different, and perhaps why the Canadiens made the trade.

When Subban entered the room and saw the horde of journalists, many from Montreal, his eyes opened wide, he smiled and said, "That's different."

He arrived wearing a black leather jacket with silver-studded sleeves, made by Montreal-based manufacturer Mackage, and Kanye West-designed Yeezy sneakers. He happily spoke for 15 minutes, even extending the press conference when the Predators tried to end it.

He was being peppered with questions about the upper-body injury that will keep him out of the Predators lineup for at least the next two weeks, about his adjustment to Nashville, about whether he missed Montreal, and he was in his element.

An hour or so later, Weber came out after the morning skate dressed in shorts and a Canadiens hooded shirt, his hands lodged in his pockets and visibly uncomfortable. He was peppered with questions for five minutes and basically didn't answer any of them.

He was being forced to talk about himself, and he didn't like it. He was not in his element.

"I'm part of a new team and I just want to move forward," Weber said in conclusion. "I just want to play hockey."

The way his new team played for him Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena, it was clear just how much the Canadiens appreciate having Weber around. And the way the Predators and their fans paid tribute to him, it was just as clear Weber's time in Nashville will live on forever.

But now it's over, and Weber can go back to being the Weber we have come to know: the competitor, the intimidator, that stoic presence.

He can just go play hockey again.

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