“We’ve got a lot of work left to do, boys. Let’s forget about this one and move on to Game Four.”
The speech from Nashville Predators Captain Shea Weber was brief - and yet profound - only seconds after his team’s 4-1 triumph over the San Jose Sharks in Game Three on Tuesday night. Colin Wilson had handed the golden boot - given to the Predators player of the game by its previous recipient - to the Predators blueliner with the “C” stitched to his sweater only moments before, and all eyes in the locker room were on Weber. He didn’t mix words. And his message did not go unheard.
Moments like this often are missed by anyone other than the lucky few who call the 6-foot-4 Sicamous, British Columbia, native Captain, and they might be even more important than what he displays on the ice every night. Yet it's his no-nonsense game that helped Weber to receive the nomination as a finalist for the 2016 Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone. At the NHL Awards on June 22, Weber will be honored as one member of a select trio chosen for exhibiting the sometimes undefinable, yet essential, characteristic of leadership.
“It’s a huge honor. It’s a neat award, and to be nominated with the two other guys (New York Islanders Captain John Tavares and Washington Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin), it’s a special feeling, and it’s a credit to my teammates as well,” Weber said on Wednesday. “Leadership, I think a lot of times it just comes naturally. It’s something you don’t want to force. Each situation calls for a different way of leading. I try to lead by example on the ice, and if something needs to be said, I’ll say it. That’s the way I try to approach it.”
Two Preds defensemen, who have effectively studied under Weber since he became the first team draft pick to be named captain in 2010, say it’s the 30-year-old’s guidance by action that has left an impression on them.
“He’s one of those guys that leads by example,” Roman Josi, Weber’s defensive partner, said. “We know we can count on him every time he steps on the ice; we know he’s going to leave it all out there. He’s just a great leader, he’s been a great mentor to me. He’s one of those guys who plays the game really honest. He’s such a great leader, and we’re happy to have him as a captain.”
“More than anything, I think he leads by example,” Mattias Ekholm said. “The way he plays, the way he conducts himself, off and on the ice, even more off the ice I would say. He’s always the one working hard, he rarely takes optionals, he’s always out there, and when he is out there he’s always going 100 percent. I’m just really happy I’ve been able to watch and learn from what kind of guy he is.”
Maybe it’s moments like the one after Game Three that show players like Josi, Ekholm and Filip Forsberg how to navigate being a professional hockey player. Or maybe it’s the diving block, game-winning goal and hard work behind the net that left a deeper impression.
“The biggest thing is the way he leads on the ice, just the way he sacrifices his body, the way he plays the game,” Forsberg said. “Whenever he needs to talk he does, but he doesn’t force it when he doesn’t need to. He’s just a pure leader on the ice and brings the best out of everyone, by leading by example.”
A three-time Norris Trophy finalist, Weber finds himself honored today for the other aspects of his game that may go unnoticed by those who don’t surround him following a final horn. From the NHL:
“The Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone has been awarded since 2006-07 and is awarded ‘to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season.’ Suggestions for nominees are solicited from fans, clubs and NHL personnel, but the selection of the three finalists and the ultimate winner is made by Messier, one of the finest leaders in NHL history; the six-time Stanley Cup champion is one of three players to have captained three teams (Edmonton, N.Y. Rangers, Vancouver).”
Will today’s honor be something that sticks in Weber’s mind for a while? Unlikely. He already has his team focusing on Game Four.