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Weight's transition to retirement an ongoing process

by Kurt Dusterberg
Doug Weight is in a good place.

It is late morning, and he is dangling the puck on the bright, white ice inside RBC Center in Raleigh. High above him in the rafters hangs the Carolina Hurricanes' 2006 Stanley Cup banner. Weight played for that team, so stickhandling in the quiet arena is special -- a moment of basking in personal accomplishment.

At the same time, there are a couple of disconnects at work. Weight is long gone from the Hurricanes organization. And despite the display of skills, he is retired. He now conducts all his idle puck work in a New York Islanders warm-up suit, serving as an assistant coach and advisor to the general manager.

As Weight goes through his puck paces hours before the Islanders face Carolina that night, something is becoming clear. This man with more than 1,000 NHL points is not altogether comfortable without an NHL uniform.

"I'm still going through it, to be honest with you," said Weight, who retired last May at age 40 after three injury-plagued seasons with the Islanders. "I certainly don't want to play a violin because I've been lucky to play 20 years in the sport I love the most and make a living from it. But it's hard."


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Like so many other professional athletes, he wasn't ready to retire. It was more a case of retirement summoning him. He played just 54 games over his final two seasons -- serving as the Islanders captain -- and was unable to play after mid-November of last season, done in by an aching back.

Those months in limbo late last season introduced Weight to the inevitable, that his career was ending. But nothing prepared him for the reality of no longer playing the game.

"I realize how fortunate I am, but it's a tough transition," Weight said. "I have to stay on top of my emotions and continue to keep busy and find things. There's never going to be the adrenaline you have walking out of the tunnel in a Game 7 or scoring a goal. You have to find things that motivate you."

Weight has found that purpose. By dabbling in both coaching and management, he has filled his time with new experiences in his old line of work. Coaching, he found out, was more than wearing a tie and standing next to New York coach Jack Capuano.

"The first 30 games or so this year, [Capuano] would say, 'Did you see the way they did that breakout? Did you see their forecheck?'" said Weight, animated and laughing at his own newbie coaching skills. "I'd say, 'No -- I was looking at the guy making that great move!'"

Weight is more discerning now when he analyzes the game. But it's understandable that he began with an eye on the stickhandlers. "That was my strength as a player," he pointed out.

In 19 NHL seasons, Weight earned a reputation as one of the game's best playmaking centers, amassing 755 assists among his 1,033 points. With 1,238 regular-season games to his credit, only 75 players have skated in more. That's why Islanders general manager Garth Snow found a role for him immediately.

"His resume speaks for itself," Snow said. "He's a great hockey mind. I knew he'd be a good fit on our staff."

The additional front office role is more than just an honorary position to keep Weight in the organizational loop.

"During the season, you see him on TV behind the bench in that role," Snow says. "But behind the scenes, he's someone I lean on regarding personnel and bouncing ideas off of. In the offseason, coaches usually go their own way, but Dougie and I work continuously for 12 months."

With a hand in so many organizational decisions, Weight's personal interactions are beginning to evolve. No longer is he the venerated "voice in the room," but he's hardly an outsider to the young core of players.

"I was this team's captain for two years, so I'm still close to the guys," Weight says. "I have to call them out sometimes in a certain aspect of my job as a coach, but I can still be their friend, I can still go in there and talk. You never want to get away from that relationship with the players, but certainly things have to change."

That's how Weight views his personal relationship with hockey, too -- the actual connection between the retired player and tools of his trade. Just because he cannot dress for games doesn't mean his skills will be boxed up with his team sweaters.

"I have a little rink in my backyard, and I go out with my son," said Weight, a four-time All-Star who spent the prime of his career with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues. "I want to keep myself in shape and keep sharp."

So he steals away the little moments when the Islanders practice. As the team stretches together at center ice, he stickhandles between his legs, bumping the puck from stick to skate and back to his forehand. By the time the practice group has thinned to just a few healthy extras, Weight has lined up three pucks in the left faceoff circle near the goal line. He hits the net with three straight shots, the last from an impossible angle -- and it is top shelf.

"You can always dream," he said with a satisfied smile. "I'm 41 years old and I can still picture myself in a Game 7 and scoring a goal. There's nothing wrong with that."

Not as long as he has the Islanders. If he can miss the game without being separated from it, Weight can ease his way through the process.

"I want to continue to be passionate about hockey," he said. "I've found that in coaching and just being involved with a franchise that's treated me great.

"But it's a slow process, and slowly you accept it. Time will make it easier for me."
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