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Weight's retirement signals changing of U.S. guard

by Brian Compton
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Doug Weight made his NHL debut in a Stanley Cup Playoff game against the Washington Capitals back in 1991. On his first shift as a New York Ranger, he tripped along the boards. It quickly prompted a scoring chance the other way.
"Whoever it was, he shot it wide … it probably saved my career so I thank him for that," an emotional Weight said Thursday morning, when the New York Islanders captain announced his retirement after 19 seasons in the National Hockey League.
Weight is calling it quits after a brilliant career that saw him tally 1,033 points in 1,238 NHL games. One of the finest American centers to ever play the game, Weight's retirement all but means a changing of the guard for U.S. hockey, as only Detroit Red Wings center Mike Modano remains from an era that produced some of the greatest American hockey players (Chris Chelios, Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick, just to name a few) in history. And there's a good chance Modano may retire this offseason, too.
"I think we saw with that with (last year's) Olympics," Weight told when asked if a new day has dawned on U.S. hockey. "Mike was really the only one that had a chance to make the team and didn't. I'm proud of them. They played great. That's a fun thing and they should really embrace that. Maybe since '95, '96 when we won the World Cup, that was an unbelievable ride. You always penciled in that next big tournament and you knew probably 15 of the 20 players that were always going to be on those teams, and that was a cool thing. It was just a great experience and something I'll never forget.
"It is a changing (of the guard). I look forward to staying a fan. I mean, (Zach) Parise and (Ryan) Kesler … the list goes on and the players that we have that can play the game. They made us proud in Vancouver and I'm sure they will in the future." 
Bill Guerin, who played with Weight in Edmonton and New York and also on those aforementioned U.S. teams, retired after winning a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. He hopes guys like himself and Weight helped bring the U.S. program to new heights. America claimed the silver medal after losing in overtime to Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
"We couldn't be happier to see the group of players that are coming up," Guerin said. "The Patrick Kanes, the Keslers … the guys that were in the past Olympics were amazing. We need to see guys like that and we're proud of those guys. Hopefully we laid a good foundation and we had some influence."
Weight and Guerin had an influence on each other. The two became buddies while playing together for the Edmonton Oilers in the mid-1990s and are now the best of friends. Guerin, who was present for Weight's retirement speech Thursday morning, was asked for his favorite memory of playing with Weight.
"Our days in Edmonton were my fondest memories with Dougie," Guerin said. "We were kids at the time and just having fun. We were underdogs every year and we knew that. Our playoff series against the Dallas Stars were well known throughout the League for being just wars. Just being in the middle of that stuff with Dougie and going through things like the Olympics and the World Cup -- a lot of those memories will stay with me forever."
Weight and Guerin also created memories apart from each other, as the latter won Stanley Cups with New Jersey (1995) and Pittsburgh (2009), while Weight hoisted his lone Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. He was acquired by the Hurricanes that season from the St. Louis Blues and had 16 points in 23 playoff games.
"You're 35 years old … you start thinking you're never going to get the chance," Weight said. "There will be great players in every sport that don't win majors, that don't win championships that will still be winners."

"It is a changing (of the guard). I look forward to staying a fan. I mean, (Zach) Parise and (Ryan) Kesler … the list goes on and the players that we have that can play the game. They made us proud in Vancouver and I'm sure they will in the future." -- Doug Weight on the changing of the guard for U.S. Hockey

Armed with a Stanley Cup ring, Weight was still hungry to help a team win. Enter the Islanders, a very young club that was in desperate need of added experience to go alongside Guerin, who was the team's captain when Weight signed on the dotted line in 2008. Weight would go on to replace Guerin as captain the following season and played a major role in helping then-rookie John Tavares get accustomed to the NHL lifestyle.
On the ice, things never went as Weight had originally planned. He experienced tremendous difficulty staying healthy and never appeared in more than 53 games in any of the three seasons in New York. A nagging back injury limited him to just 18 contests this season.
Still, he fell in love with Long Island -- so much so that he is currently building a home and has declared himself a full-time resident. And despite the fact that he's hanging up the blades, he remains a full-time employee of the Islanders after GM Garth Snow announced Weight will become an assistant coach and a special assistant to the GM.
"I played on six teams," Weight said. "Cities to live in, this place is unbelievable for young guys and old guys with families. You've got the city, you've got the North Shore and South Shore, the Hamptons … you name it, it's got everything you want. Franchise is second to none. I've been treated wonderfully since I've been here.
"I didn't know what to expect when I came to the Island, but the proof is in the pudding. We need to win and we need to take strides to go forward to win. That means challenging our players, challenging our staff, our culture of where this team is. That's something that's got to be addressed, and we're addressing it. We're going to challenge ourselves as an organization to become better and to have more accountability. Players, coaches … everybody."
Snow is thrilled to still have Weight in the mix. But one could argue nobody in the organization is more excited about Thursday's news than Tavares, who rented out Weight's guest house during his rookie season of 2009-10.
"The guy plays 19 years and decides to play with a young team … at his age, he realized that something is going right here," Tavares said. "He loves the area and loves being here. He's going to be a resident here full-time. I know he's going to preach a lot about what it means to be an Islander and how special it is. But for a guy who played for six teams to stay here, it means our organization's first-class. It's a great place to play."
For Weight, the hope is that it will now become a great place to learn. Snow has done a solid job of replenishing what was a depleted system and has the team in position to take the next step come October. Just like he did as a player, Weight plans on giving 110 percent in his new role.
"I love working with Garth … I just like learning from him," Weight said. "In two years, three years, I could have a fire of being behind that bench. This is a great learning year for me. I'll take it a year at a time. The most important thing is I give everything back to this organization that I can. It's fun when you have a good relationship with your owner and Garth as a general manager." 
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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