The good news for Shea Weber came during the NHL’s Olympic break last February. The Predators would be keeping the 20-year-old defenseman in Nashville for at least the remainder of the regular season.
After riding the yoyo between Milwaukee and Nashville during the first half of the season, Weber was able to demonstrate an ability to elevate his game. He played 46 games for the Admirals during the AHL regular season before a 28-game stint with the Predators. He played four playoff games with Nashville before returning to Milwaukee for the Admirals deep playoff run.
All tolled, the 6’3, 210-pound native of Sicamous, BC played 92 games last season. Prior to his professional career, Weber played in three straight Memorial Cup tournaments with the Kelowna Rockets, which included a national championship in 2004. He won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2005 World Junior Championship.
Through it all, the ice time, the travel, the victories and defeats, Weber has managed to remain grounded. A humble young man, Weber is appreciative of those who have had an impact on his career so far. Nashville’s second round draft choice in 2003, Weber himself has had already an impact within the Predators organization.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Weber in Kelowna, following the Rockets alumni weekend celebrations.
HF: Looks like there are a few former Rockets in the Nashville system now?
SW: I ran into Vern Fiddler and Nolan Yonkman at the alumni game, but you know, we work out at the gym together here and hang out a bit, too. It’s always nice going into training camp and seeing a familiar face. Sometimes you go into a camp and it can be kind of awkward when you don’t know anyone and it can take awhile to get used to things. But when you know a guy or two, it can make you feel a bit more at home.
HF: The Kelowna Rockets seem to be an organization close to your heart?
SW: First of all I was very fortunate they took a chance on me as a kid coming out of a junior B organization (Sicamous Eagles of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League). They gave me a shot to play and get me in the lineup. I improved so much as a player there, but I also grew as a person, you know, moving away from home. The Rockets were such a big help. No way I could have done all of this without them.
HF: How do feel playing in the Western Hockey League prepared you for the professional game?
SW: I think the WHL really helped to prepare me, especially for the AHL because there are a lot of similar bus trips to those we had in Kelowna. The travel, the games, without that experience, I’m not sure how I would have handled it in the AHL. It probably would have been a real surprise once I got in there. At the next level, it’s a bit different, but going from the WHL to the AHL is very close, it prepares you as a young guy very well.
HF: What do you remember about being called up from Milwaukee for the first time last season?
SW: It’s a pretty special time because as a kid playing hockey you always dream about playing your first NHL game. Once you get there, it’s that much more exciting. But then all of a sudden you kind of have to put all that behind you and go out and play.
HF: Tell us about your first NHL goal?
SW: That first NHL goal was special. I know my family was watching on television. Yanic (Perrault) just made a great play, a good pass and my shot found its way through the goalie. It was against St. Louis, a power play goal. Reinhard Divis was the goalie. I’ll remember it the rest of my life.
HF: While you were in Milwaukee, who were your defense partners?
SW: At first I started out with Greg Zanon. Then when we traded for Rick Berry and I played with him for about 20 games. We switched it up again and I played with Sheldon Brookbank for most of the rest of the year. When I came back for the playoffs I played with Steve Lingren.
HF: How about in Nashville?
SW: It kind of depended who was in the lineup. I played a few games with Ryan Suter at the start. When I got into the lineup on more of a consistent basis, I played Dan Hamhuis most of the time.
HF: You and Ryan Suter have crossed paths at some international events. With the future in mind, how do feel about playing with him?
SW: Well, we played in the same WJC, the one in North Dakota. We didn’t play against him, but I watched him a bit and tried to get a feel for what his game is all about. I know Ryan is very competitive and I think we kind of pushed each other a bit this past year. He’s easy to get along with and it’s good competition to try and push each other to be in the lineup every night. I think we can force each other to get even better.
HF: It appears the Predators are pretty confident in the young defensemen in the organization. With Brendan Witt and Danny Markov leaving after last season, it looks like the young guys are going to get a good look this year?
SW: I think it’s a big loss for the team, but the young guys are looking for that opportunity and to be put into a position where we can do the kinds of things they did. Hopefully I can fit right in there with a really talented young group of defensemen. Everyone is going to push each other to be better. You can’t really sit back or someone will come along and bump you out of the way. It’ll be important to stay competitive. I think it’ll really help everyone in the long run.
HF: Any thoughts on playing with Witt, who is known as a pretty tough NHLer?
SW: It was a great experience for me. I had never known or played with Brendan and got to know him a bit. Just watching and playing with him, you know, you can tell the difference when he’s out there. The guys know he’s out there. It’s interesting to watch.
HF: You have kind of a close relationship with Cody Franson (3rd round, 2005), being from the same hometown?
SW: I’ve seen him around home for a couple days this summer. He works out in Calgary. We’re going to work a hockey school together in Sicamous in August. He’s a bit younger, hung out with my brother more than with me, but it’s good to see him around and we’ve done a ton of things together. (Former Predator) Kris Beech also comes back to work the hockey school.
HF: Anything in particular you’re doing this off-season to stay in shape?
SW: Mostly just a basic program. Dave Good is the trainer in Nashville and does a really good job preparing programs separately for all the players. You just work through it. I’ve been at it for a couple years with him and I know a bit more about what is expected. It’s really about demanding the most of yourself and working hard every day. The club hasn’t gotten into real specifics, but I know I want to get a little bigger without losing any speed, especially with the new rules in the NHL. You have to maintain the quickness and be able to move.
HF: What else keeps you busy during the off-season?
SW: I love to get out and whack the golf ball around a little bit. I like to play as much as I can. I like to go fishing. I just like to relax and hang out with my buddies, a lot of them I don’t get to see year-round.
HF: What’s your mindset heading into training camp this year, given your experience in Nashville last season?
SW: I just want to make sure I’m prepared. I know a little bit about what to expect. I’ll take some of the things I learned by watching the older guys and just kind of prepare the best I can. I don’t want to go in there and not know what’s going to happen. I want to make the team. Adjusting to the new rules was a whole new experience last year. Not only were the guys bigger and stronger and faster, the rules forced you to adjust real quickly. It made things much more difficult.
HF: Any thoughts on the playoff series against the San Jose Sharks and your former Kelowna teammate, Josh Gorges?
SW: I guess I look at it with mixed feelings. San Jose came in hot, just a great team that played really well together against us. I’m more used to playing with Josh rather than against him, kind of a different feeling, I mean we both want to see each other have success. The hockey is certainly more intense in the playoffs, everyone is playing for the same reason and everyone really plays hard to win.
HF: How about the AHL playoff run with Milwaukee? Kind of an unexpected opportunity for you?
SW: I was fortunate because I thought my season was over after the series against San Jose. I’m glad I had another shot at winning a championship, but I’m not real happy about how it ended. We put in a great effort. Scotty Upshall, Jordan Tootoo and Pekka Rinne also came back from Nashville to Milwaukee.
HF: Anybody had a real impact on your development over the past season, your first as a pro?
SW: A lot of guys have helped. My roommate Greg Zanon helped right away. I was a young guy trying to figure things out and get used to everything. Rick Berry really helped me out when we played together.
HF: Any personal expectations for the 2006-07 season?
SW: Just turning my game into one that is more consistent, you know, playing the same game that I bring on a Friday that I do on a Sunday. Just consistently playing at a top level and staying there to contribute the most that I can.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.