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Weight helped usher in new era of American hockey

by Brian Compton

It's a moment Doug Weight was hopeful would come, but deep down he had to know it was inevitable.

One of the more talented American forwards to ever play the game, Weight, now an assistant coach with the New York Islanders, will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Monday night at the Motor City Casino in his hometown of Detroit.

Weight, 42, is part of a class that also includes one of his closest friends, Bill Guerin, along with Cindy Curley, Peter Karmanos, Jr. and Ron Mason. Weight played for six teams in the NHL (New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, St. Louis Blues, Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks and the Islanders) and had 278 goals and 755 assists in 1,238 games. He added another 23 goals and 49 assists in 97 Stanley Cup Playoff games and helped the Hurricanes win the franchise's lone championship in 2006.

One of the more talented American forwards to ever play the game, Doug Weight will enter the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday after a playing career that included winning the Stanley Cup and the World Cup of Hockey. (Photo: Getty Images)

"I've certainly seen a lot of friends be inducted in the last couple of years, and I was hopeful," Weight said. "It meant a lot. It was an exciting call to make to my family, my father, my mother … I'm tickled pink. It's a great accomplishment for me and I'm very proud of it."

Weight is yet another talented center to be entering the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, joining the likes of some of his idols, including fellow Michigan native Pat LaFontaine, a 2003 inductee who entered the NHL when Weight was 13. But Weight knows he never would be in this position without the help of two very important people in his life.

"I looked up to a lot of USA players … Patty LaFontaine was from my area," Weight said. "Although he was only two years older than me, Mike Modano [was a major influence]. [Jeremy] Roenick was coming up.

"[But] my coaches and my family were my biggest influences and my biggest supporters. Me being a hockey parent now, the sacrifice that you give for your kids to get on the ice not only financially, but time. Being from Detroit, [my parents] sacrificed a lot. It's great to look back and think of how I was when I was 19 or 20 years old, just getting in the League to being where I am now … I feel very fortunate, very proud."

Like several other players who have been inducted in recent years, one of Weight's biggest contributions was his role on the team that upset Canada at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. After dropping Game 1 of the best-of-three final round in overtime in Philadelphia, the Americans earned back-to-back victories in Montreal to win the tournament. Weight had three goals and four assists in seven games.

"The memory is the whole experience, from the time I was picked to getting a call from [coach] Ron Wilson, telling me I was going to play with Brett Hull," Weight said. "Getting there, I was so nervous, but seeing the evolution of the team, the training camp that we had in Providence, to the belief that I started to feel with guys like [Chris] Chelios, [Brian] Leetch, Modano. All these guys walking around the room and I'm like, 'Look at this team.'

"Brett and I were roommates and he said to me, 'We're the best team in this tournament. We're better than Canada this year.' I looked at their roster and it's [Wayne] Gretzky … I mean, every handshake was a Hall of Famer. But I truly believe that he believed it. The veterans on that team portrayed that message. Winning back-to-back games after losing a heartbreaker in overtime in Philly, winning on Friday and Saturday night in Montreal was as surreal as it gets. I played in Canada for nine years. I know what it means to them, and it makes us even prouder that we were able to get into that building and win two straight games against a team with such great players. It was just a wonderful two weeks for me."

Weight also had the privilege of representing his country at three Winter Olympics (1998, 2002, 2006). He helped the U.S. win the silver medal on its own soil in 2002, when the tournament was held in Salt Lake City. Weight had three assists in six games.

"The village, the experience, the buildup, you come to the realization five or six days into it that some of these athletes have given up everything to the point of almost living out of their car and spending everything they can just for one event," Weight said. "It's the greatest sporting event, really, of all sports. To come together, all the nations are watching, the crowd … each one was its own great experience.

"Salt Lake was amazing. It was so close to 9/11, where our country really came together. A United States venue in Salt Lake City, I'll never forget playing Russia, playing Canada. The crowd, I think it was probably only a 4,500-seat arena, but it sounded like maybe the loudest thing I've ever been in, and maybe the most nervous I've ever been. It was a great experience and I was just really fortunate to have made those teams and to have been a part of them."

Just prior to the 2006 Torino Olympics, Weight was faced with one of the biggest decisions of his career. Then a member of the Blues, Weight had a no-trade clause. He was 35 at the time and had yet to win a Stanley Cup. But Carolina wanted him. Karmanos, who owned the club, and Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford felt Weight was the missing piece.

Weight was provided with an opportunity to waive his no-trade clause in exchange for a chance to win the trophy that had eluded him since he entered the League in 1991. He accepted. A few months later, he was on the ice in Carolina with his family, celebrating his first NHL title. The Hurricanes beat one of Weight's former teams, the Oilers, in a wild seven-game series.

"I didn't know what to expect and St. Louis was struggling at the time and I had a no-trade clause," Weight said. "Those rumors start flying around and then the deal was through and I thought about it for a couple of days. I decided that they had a great team and a chance to win. The way Peter put his team together, and Jimmy just took all the pressure off me and just said to be myself. He wanted me to fit in, and I wanted to do the same thing, do anything I could to win.

"If it meant less minutes than I was used to in St. Louis, or being on a second power play, whatever it was, I just wanted to be a part of a winning team. I can't thank them enough for the confidence they showed and the way they treated my family, myself. People often ask me if it takes anything away from the Stanley Cup because you're only there four or five months, and I actually have to open my eyes when I hear that. I felt like I was there for three or four years and a big part of that franchise."

After winning the Cup, Weight returned to St. Louis for another season and a half before being traded again, this time to Anaheim. He had 14 points in 38 games for the Ducks and became an unrestricted free agent. He joined Guerin and the Islanders in the summer of 2008, where the close friends tried to rejuvenate a struggling team.

For Guerin, he was just happy to have Weight back on his side. Not only were they teammates on various U.S. teams, but Weight and Guerin also played together in New York, St. Louis and Edmonton. On Monday, they'll join the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame side by side.

"It means the world to me," said Guerin, who currently serves as the Pittsburgh Penguins' player development coach. "If there was one guy that I could choose to walk in with, it's Dougie. We played together so many times. We for the most part were linemates every time we played. Our relationship, from the time we were teammates on the World Cup team, and definitely with the families when I got traded to Edmonton, we just became tight. He's like a brother. I care a lot about the guy. He's the ultimate teammate and you couldn't have a better friend. The fact that our families are this close is just awesome. I love the guy."

"We played on three teams in the NHL, three Olympics and some World Cups," Weight said. "We just really hit it off. We have a similar sense of humor. His isn't as witty or quick as mine, but he gives it a shot. We enjoy each other's company. We have a great respect for each other and a great complement on the ice as well. As much fun as we like to have, we were very committed and we challenged each other. We made each other accountable. I really enjoyed all the places we played together."

When Weight and the Islanders finished at the bottom of the NHL standings in 2008-09, it led to them being awarded the No. 1 pick at the 2009 NHL Draft. They used it to select center John Tavares, who has developed into one of the premier players in the sport.

"Obviously, everyone knows about what he did for me and how he helped me as a young player," said Tavares, who lived in Weight's home early on in his NHL career. "But he's become a really close friend. He's still so well-respected as a coach and the management side now. But when he was captain, you could just feel his presence when he spoke and when he said things or did things. Everyone would stop what they're doing and listen.

"He made everyone feel so much a part of the team, whether you played less minutes or a lesser role, you were just as important as everyone. It didn't matter, your role or who you were on the team, everyone was important and he brought everyone together. He made sure to involve everyone in everything he did."

Weight retired in 2011, but stayed on with the Islanders as an assistant coach and senior advisor to GM Garth Snow. With his help, New York ended a six-year playoff drought last season. On Monday, he'll take a quick break from his work to relive some of the most exciting moments of his life, which featured several opportunities to represent his country playing the game he cherishes.

"When you put that jersey on, they make sure you realize just how proud of it you should be," Weight said. "I think we all do. I'm very proud of wearing that jersey and I've been proud to be a part of it."


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