It’s really no secret that all the 2006 eligible prospects for the upcoming NHL Draft take their careers in hockey very seriously. After spending countless years, days, hours and minutes honing their craft, the draft is a validation of what they have accomplished. Another starting point, the draft takes a prospect through a huge positive turn, towards hopefully one day lacing up with the world’s best.
For those who have had a chance to chat with Windsor Spitfires blueliner Mike Weber, you know he’s as serious as a heart attack about making the NHL one day. But then again, who wouldn’t be as serious as he, if you were in his place?
Weber grew up playing his minor hockey in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He spent two years playing for the Cleveland Barons AAA team in the Midwest Elite Hockey League before he headed back to Pittsburgh. He spent his last season close to home playing on a junior B before Windsor drafted him with the 56th overall pick in the OHL 2003 priority draft.
With no guarantee he would make the Spitfires 2003-04 roster, Weber packed his bags and headed up to Windsor to get ready for the big challenge. Today, Weber a veteran blueliner for Spits, and is set to enter the 2006 NHL Entry Draft ranked as the 34th best skater in the Central Scouting Bureau’s final North American rankings.
Hockey’s Future caught with Weber this past week at his other job, tending to the ice and the patrons at Ice Park in the City of Windsor. He talked about growing up as a player with the Spits, his game, the future and much more.
HF: Did you come across any sort of obstacles while you were growing up and trying to find your way and your style as a player?
MW: No, I really never had a problem with that. I’ve always been a defensive defenseman. Even now, I’m not a flashy guy, I’m the guy who’s going to get and block the shot, play good in his own end and keep pucks out of his net.
HF: When did you know you could make a serious run at making hockey a career?
MW: It was probably when I was 15 years old and I moved away from home. Windsor drafted me and I wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the roster. A guy named Butch Ott found me and got me hooked up with the right people. He showed me what it takes to be in the NHL. He felt I had all the right tools and he encouraged me to work hard for it. I really think I have a great work ethic and I’m not going to stop working hard until I get into the NHL.
HF: Is it safe to say you weren’t satisfied with being average growing up?
MW: I’ve never been satisfied with being average. I always push myself, now probably more than ever. I want to be the best I could be. I know I might not have been the best or most talented player on the ice but I was always the guy working the hardest and trying to be the smartest too.
HF: When you started to succeed in the league, did it give you a big boost?
MW: I was going in there with people not thinking I was going to make the team. I went in there, worked hard all summer and made the team. It was a huge step and a big relief but I knew the hard work was just beginning. It is going to be the same as I move up a level. Getting drafted is going to great and all, but here’s where the hard work starts.
HF: What were some of the first things that stood out or even some of your first impressions when you came into the OHL during the 2003-04 season?
MW: It is a learning experience. A lot of rookies come in expecting to play and that is not the case. I was fortunate enough, having played in 65 of the 68 games that year. It was a learning experience for me to get three or four shifts with older guys, learning the ropes, going hard in practice. I would into the corner with the older guys and the coaching staff and really trying to develop my game. I even learned some things that you might not pick up as an amateur player coming up through the ranks.
HF: How important was it to have the older players there to help guide you and show you the way?
MW: It’s been a lifesaver in a way. It really opened my eyes having someone like Steve Ott and Tim Gleason, who are local guys. They took me aside and took me into the gym and showed me what it takes both on and off the ice. It’s helped me out so much. I couldn’t thank them enough. Now, I feel that is the role I have now with Windsor. I have show the younger guys what to do and what it takes.
HF: When did you start feeling comfortable playing the OHL with Windsor?
MW: I have never felt comfortable. It seems as if I was a 15-year-old yesterday and now it’s like bam, I’m one of the older guys. You have to be aware that there are always younger guys coming up the ranks looking to take a job and take a spot. I’m always on my toes; I’m always trying to get better, while I keep the dream of playing in the NHL one day.
HF: Over the last few seasons, you have evolved into one of the better defensemen in the league. What has it taken for you to get to that status and how proud are you of obtaining that billing?
MW: DJ Smith has helped me a lot with my defensive play, especially with the new rules in place. You can’t really clutch, grab and throw guys around a lot. I have come to learn how to utilize my stick effectively. You always have to have a good stick that is on the puck. I’m proud of where I’m at but again, I’m not too satisfied yet. I expect better out of myself each and every time I step out on the ice.
HF: Knowing you were headed into your draft year, did you change your approach or did you simply stay with what has got you this far?
MW: I knew I had to kick it up a little more early on in the season because a couple guys were injured. I was playing almost 40 minutes a game there for the first 10 games or so. I think I was trying to do a little too much. I was trying to be a little more offensive and a little here and there. I sat down with the staff and we came pretty much agreed I was there to play defense and the numbers would eventually come. I think I had a decent year with 26 points but the biggest thing that stood out in my mind was the plus-17. I just really needed to settle down. I started to take things game by game and shift by shift.
HF: Would you say you felt a little more pressure on you around the start of the season but things eased back towards normal?
MW: Things eased back in and I just set my role on being a defensive guy first. From there it started going a lot easier. Honestly, the NHL draft wasn’t really in my mind. You’re practicing and playing every night so it was in the back of my mind if anything else. The worst thing that could have happened to me this year would be that the season ended.
HF: How big was it for you step up and be that role model and a leader out there?
MW: I think that is a huge thing for me, especially heading into next season. I am that guy and I have to be that guy. I accept it. I’ve always been a leader on the team. Last season, a year ago and even during my rookie year I was out there encouraging everyone on to do better. I think it’s in my blood. It’s gong to be very important next season because we’re going to be one of the younger teams in the league next year. A lot of guys my age would be looking to get out of Windsor, but I can’t wait to get back.
HF: What was it like to play in the top prospect game?
MW: It was a great experience all around. It was three days long and I don’t think I’ve had a better time. I played on a great team and I think I played pretty well. There were a lot of scouts and a lot of pressure put on you. I stuck to my game and took it shift by shift.
HF: If I’m a GM or a scout, what do I see when you step out on the ice every night?
MW: I’m a kid who works really hard and who’s smart with the puck, who knows what to do in different situations and who’s just good defensively. I’m going to be the guy that puts up the big numbers but I’m going to be stopping goals. I’m physical and I do whatever it takes to win.
HF: What are some of the things that you still want to work on?
MW: I would like to work on my stick handling and being able to jump up on the rush while moving the puck at the same time. I feel I’m a strong skater, but it’s always something you can work on. As you make your way through the ranks, you always have to be faster and stronger. You have to be able to able to pivot and move quicker and stronger.
HF: How do you handle pressure or adversity?
MW: I love it. I love it when your back is up against the wall and no thinks you can do. I’ve that my whole life beating down on me. ‘You can’t make it to the next level, you’re not going to make the pros, you can’t do this.’ Well, that been my whole motivation through life. I want to prove them wrong and get ahead.
HF: How does it feel when you’re on top of your game?
MW: When I’m on top of my game, I feel like nothing can get me. I feel like that most nights but when I’m on it, I’m just going.
HF: How much has playing in the OHL helped you develop as a person and a player?
MW: It’s been great for me. I could have asked for a better developmental league. You move away and you get the feeling that you have to be more mature because you don’t have your parents around to lean on. Because you’re on your own, you bond with your teammates and they become like your brothers and your family and support system. Things like that both on and off the ice make it such a good league.
HF: What was the Combine like?
MW: That was an intense weekend. I talked with 17 teams and had my fitness testing. It was just three days of craziness and you’re running around in a suit.
HF: How do you think you fared?
MW: I think I did rather well but I haven’t seen any of my results. I trained really hard for that and I felt like I did very well. I feel that I did extremely well in my meetings.
HF: Does anything change for you when you hear your name called at the draft?
MW: No. That means I’m going to have to work that much harder to make the club wherever I happen to go.
HF: How does it know that you’re that much closer to your dream?
MW: It’s getting nervous. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights just wondering where I’m going to go. I have to take in the experience and enjoy it but I can’t wait to hear my named called so I can get to work.
HF: Do you change your approach moving forward or do you think there are some more things you need to accomplish at the junior level?
MW: My ultimate goal once I hear my name is going to make that NHL team. I know it’s going to be hard but I’m going to do everything in my power for that NHL team not to send me home at training camp. Obviously it’s hockey and it’s a learning experience and there is a ladder you have to climb. If I do get sent back to junior, I think it’s going to be that much better for me, so I can help them out and be a leader.
HF: What do you its going to take to be successful at the next level?
MW: Speed and strength. It’s going to be a hell of a ride. Not really sure what to expect right now. Hopefully the guys who have helped me in the past like Ott and Gleason continue to help me out and I make sure I’m at the top of my game heading into training camp.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.