Before Shea Weber
admits to the weight of all of Canada on his shoulders, he's not shrugging off the weight of a Stanley Cup Playoff berth for his Nashville Predators in these final days before the Olympic break.
"Right now we're feeling a bit of the pressure, especially coming into the break just because we have two games left here and the standings are so tight in the West," Weber told NHL.com. "So it's going to be a push after the break and you want to win these last two games and get as many points as you can before going away for two weeks."
The Predators currently sit in the seventh spot in the Western Conference, three points ahead of No. 9 Dallas and Detroit and 10 points behind No. 4 Phoenix. Nashville is second in the Central Division, trailing Chicago by 14 points.
Nashville visits New Jersey Friday and Pittsburgh Sunday. When Weber returns from the Olympics, he'll have 21 games to help the Predators secure their postseason trip.
Last season was the first time Weber and the Predators did not participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since he broke in as a rookie in 2005-06. Nashville was only three points behind Anaheim, the No. 8 seed.
"After missing out last year and having that long summer, it's not fun," Weber said. "It's a lot of time to sit around and think about the games that went wrong or places where you could have stole points or should have had two points. It makes things not so much fun."
The same can be said of Weber's Olympic experience should he and 22 teammates not be standing on the podium with a gold medal around their neck Feb. 28. The games are being staged in Vancouver, a five-hour drive from his hometown of Sicamous, British Columbia. Weber says the local support will not give added pressure, but only enhance his first Olympic experience.
"The only difference is it'll be a lot easier for friends and family to get down to Vancouver," he said. "I'm not sure how much time I'll get to spend with them, but just to have them there and know I'll have their support is going to be a special feeling for me.
"They've been there my whole life and I played juniors (in Kelowna) so close to home that they came to a lot of games, so there's no added pressure from the family there for me. It's just nice to have them be able to watch one of the biggest sporting events in person."
But for the citizens watching from every corner of Canada, those who aren't related to Weber or know him personally, they are not quite ready to relent on the pressure placed on their hockey heroes until gold is clinched in a little more than two weeks from now. Weber's eyes were open to this even before he was named to his first Olympic Games.
"Every year, and every event Canada is in -- World Cup, World Championships -- I think the fans and the people of Canada expect to win gold," he said. "So I don't think this is any extra pressure. It's just bigger, it's under a bigger microscope and the whole world is going to be watching, the whole country. So I think that's where everyone is getting or hearing about that added pressure."
After Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, a 1 p.m. ET start, Weber will fly to Vancouver and settle into the athlete's village. What awaits him come Monday morning is somewhat a mystery.
"I'm still not sure. I'm sure we'll have a practice of some sort," said Weber, who doesn't know who is defense partner will be or in what situations he'll play besides even-strength. "It'll be our first practice all together since the summer orientation camp. Try to get some systems figured out and get ready for Tuesday."
The Canadians begin with a match against Norway, pitting the No. 2 and No. 11 ranked nations in the IIHF pre-Olympic rankings, respectively. Most are expecting a rout. Then again, the same fans were probably expecting a rout against Switzerland in 2006, only to be shocked and outraged by a 2-0 loss.
"Approach it just like it's the gold-medal game. Your approach is you play every game like it's your last," Weber said of overcoming the pitfall of approaching an opponent too lightly. "I think that way you can get on a roll and start playing good hockey. You can't anyone for granted after watching what happened four years ago.
"Every team is there for a reason. Even if you do happen to win big I don't think you can sit back. You have to keep pushing forward. Guys have been through that before. You just have to learn from experience.
"That's the way it goes. In a short tournament all it takes is a few breaks either way. I think we just want to be ready to go right away."Contact Rocky Bonanno at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Rocky Bonanno | NHL.com Staff Writer