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Weiss A Fixture For The Panthers

by Alain Poupart / Florida Panthers
Center Stephen Weiss shakes hands with GM Dale Tallon as Weiss was honored prior to the Canadiens game in February for surpassing Radek Dvorak for most games played in franchise history.

As the 2001 NHL Entry Draft approached, there was more than one analyst comparing Stephen Weiss to longtime Detroit Red Wings great Steve Yzerman.

The comparison stemmed mostly from the all-around game both players bring on a nightly basis, but also included their great intangibles and even their remarkably similar physical stature — both are listed at 5-foot-11, 185-pounds by

As fate would have it, Weiss ended up getting drafted in the exact same spot as Yzerman, going fourth overall.

There are a couple of other ways where Weiss very much would like to be like Yzerman. The obvious one is becoming a Stanley Cup champion; another is spending his entire career with the same organization.

“I always pictured that as a kid,” Weiss said. “I’m kind of old school that way. The Steve Yzermans and guys like that who played for one team for their whole career is pretty neat. What will be will be. Over the next years, we’ll see. But definitely, I don’t want to leave until we get this going in the right direction and play some playoff hockey and ultimately trying to win a Stanley Cup. That’s what it’s all about.”

It’s actually difficult to picture the Panthers without Stephen Weiss.

He has been a fixture since making his NHL debut on April 3, 2002 when he celebrated his 19th birthday with a goal in a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh.

Almost 10 years later, when the Panthers played host to the Minnesota Wild back on Feb. 23, Weiss became the franchise leader in games played.

By appearing in his 614th game in a Panthers uniform, Weiss surpassed Radek Dvorak, who had two stints with the team — Dvorak played for the Panthers from 1995 until being traded to San Jose in December 1999 before he returned in 2007 and stayed until he was traded again in 2011, this time to Atlanta.

“It’s a really nice little accomplishment for sure,” Weiss said. “To be with a team this long is pretty special.”

First-year Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen can relate to what Weiss has meant to the organization.

Dineen spent 11 of his 18 seasons as an NHL player with the Hartford/Carolina franchise, and he ranks third on its all-time list with 708 games played.

“It’s a great accomplishment for anybody to put in a long tenure at any business,” said Dineen, who also played for Philadelphia and Ottawa before wrapping up his career with two-plus seasons in Columbus. “It shows a commitment both ways, from organization to player and player to organization, because that’s our game now. It’s a two-way street. Stephen has made a great commitment to this organization and continues to strive to make it better every day.”

Weiss holds the franchise records for most games played as well as assists and is second in points.
Weiss was honored for his accomplishment in a ceremony before the Feb. 26 home game against Montreal and then proceeded to score two goals in a 4-2 victory. On hand for the big day were Weiss’ parents and his younger brother, Jeff.

It was no doubt one of the most memorable games of Weiss’ career. His NHL debut clearly was another.

“I remember the day before getting the call and being really super-nervous about coming here,” Weiss recalled. “I don’t remember much about the game. Obviously I remember scoring a goal and us winning the game and it being my birthday and stuff, so it was a pretty special day. It was cool.

“It was one of the easier games I’ve ever played, really. Everything seemed to fall into place. And then the next six after that were probably the hardest six games I’ve ever played. As a 19-year-old, definitely an eye-opening experience about how much of a jump it is to play in this league from junior.”

But Weiss was able to handle the transition, and it wasn’t long before he became one of the most important players for the Panthers.

Along with his ability to contribute at both ends, what has helped Weiss not only last, but succeed, is a great work ethic and attitude.

“I like his quiet enthusiasm for the game,” Dineen said. “I don’t think he’s a guy who ever wants to take time off, he spends his time out there trying to better himself every day. No matter where he is health-wise, he wants to be in the lineup.”

Dineen has pointed to Weiss on more than one occasion as a great example for the younger players on the roster and even called him “the heartbeat” of the team earlier this season.

Center Shawn Matthias is one of those young players who have benefited from watching a guy like Weiss go about his business.

“He’s the leader of our team,” said the 24-year-old Matthias, who like Weiss, is a native of Ontario. “He just comes every day and works hard. You watch every game, he does all the little things; he makes those big plays. He’s always been the guy here. Being a centerman behind him, just watching him play the last couple of years, it’s been huge.

“He’s just a great player, great guy off the ice and somebody you want to look up to. He works hard every day; he’s always at the rink happy. He takes it seriously. He hates to lose. He’s been here through the thick of it and he stuck it out. He’s a good character guy. He’s just one of those guys everyone respects and gets along with.”

Weiss, one of four alternate captains on this year’s Panthers squad along with Ed Jovanovski, Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky, also scored points with his new bosses after Dale Tallon took over as General Manager in May of 2010 with his commitment to the organization.

Tallon surveyed some of his most prominent players to find out if they were willing to stick it out through the rebuilding process or whether they preferred to move to another team.

As every Panthers fan knows by now, Nathan Horton took advantage of the offer to request a change of scenery and he was traded to Boston. Weiss, meanwhile, didn’t hesitate for a second in telling Tallon he wanted to be a part of the Panthers’ turnaround.

“He’s a terrific person, first and foremost,” said Assistant GM Mike Santos. “I don’t think there’s any surprise why he’s still here since Dale Tallon took over as General Manager. We were looking for character people and there’s no one who has as much character as Stephen Weiss. That’s first and foremost. The fact that he believes in what’s being done here, especially for as long as he’s been here, that he believes in the plan and he wants to be part of it, that speaks volumes as well. Because other players who were here the last couple of years were not willing to be part of the plan, be part of what it was going to take to turn this organization around.”

Not only has Weiss given his all on the ice, but he's also been a huge part of the Panthers community efforts.
As long as he’s been around, Weiss won’t turn 30 until next year. He’s got plenty of good hockey left and would love nothing more than for all of that good hockey to be played with the Panthers.

It’s more than he could have hoped for after that taste of NHL hockey at the end of that 2001-02 season.

“Just to be still in the league, anywhere, 10 years later would have been nice at that point,” Weiss said. “After playing those next six games realizing how hard it was going to be, I would have taken that in a second to still be playing. It’s been a long road. There’s been some tough times, but for the most part, very happy to still be here and seeing this team get closer to where it needs to be.”

Matthias, in his second full season with the Panthers after making his NHL debut in 2008, says it has become one of his goals to follow in Weiss’ footsteps.

“I think the coolest thing to do as a player is to start with an organization and finish with one,” Matthias said. “You don’t see that a lot anymore. I think what he’s done is pretty cool. He’s been here for 10 years. It’s something pretty special, especially with how many guys have come in and out of here. He’s decided to stay. It’s been hard for him, I know, but he’s stuck it out and he’s never asked to be traded, he’s never asked to leave. That’s pretty cool as a player to do that.

“He’s the face of this franchise and I’m sure he will be for a lot longer.”
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