This week, as we get set for The World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo, James Duthie goes 1-on-1 with Shea Weber, captain of the surprising Nashville Predators, and a key member of Canada's 2005 gold-medal winning junior team in North Dakota, the last time the event was held in the United States.
James Duthie: Every year at this time, do you find yourself thinking back to North Dakota?
Shea Weber: Definitely. In fact, ever since I was a kid, this time of year was about the World Juniors. Getting together with the family on Boxing Day and watching that first game. And just getting so pumped up.
JD: Yourself, Crosby, Getzlaf, Perry, Richards, Carter, Phaneuf, Bergeron, Seabrook…did you guys realize at the time what a rare collection of talent that was?
SW: We didn't. We were just a bunch of kids brought together for a short tournament that Canada hadn't won in a long time, so we were really hungry. There were a lot of first round picks, but I don't think anyone knew how much everyone would do in their careers down the line.
JD: Forget what they've done since, who was the best player on that team at that time?
SW: Impossible to pick one. Carter, I think, set a record for goals. Getzlaf was great. Just go down the list. I'd never played at an international level, and I was just surprised how good all of them were. It was an eye-opener for me. The talent-level was unbelievable.
JD: A biomechanics professor studied your slap shot. And found that it was…what's the scientific term….really, really hard. Did you feel like a giant lab rat?
SW: (Laughs) Bigtime. It was neat. But they had trouble. The machine they had was for a golf swing, where you don't move much. When you load up for a slap shot you move forward a bit, and the machine kept messing up.
JD: Your shot has broken the bones of at least three teammates. Do you find yourself apologizing a lot to guys as they are groaning in pain?
SW: Yeah. I had to apologize again the other night. I got Sergei Kostitsyn in the leg. But he's okay, thankfully. I feel bad. I hate when it happens. You want them to go to the front of the net but…they're brave, that's for sure. I wouldn't want to get hit.
JD: Did you know the slap shot against Germany in the Olympics had gone right through the net?
SW: I thought it was in by the angle it had beaten the goalie and the way it popped in the corner. But we had to wait to be sure. It was a pretty great feeling when they confirmed it.
JD: Have you ever done that before?
SW: It's funny, in Toronto this year in the morning skate I was trying out some new sticks and a teammate of mine, Kevin Klein, said, “Shoot it through the net.” Sure enough, I took a shot and it went through the same spot it went through in Vancouver. The boys thought it was pretty funny.
JD: Does it bother you that Nashville is the least talked about good team in hockey…again?
SW: Ever since I've been in Nashville that's been the case. We had 110 points one year, and still flew under the radar. We don't have a problem with it. Our own fans are great. It's a good place to play hockey.
JD: Do you get recognized there?
SW: More this year. The front office has done a really good job marketing the team this season. Just the other day I was shopping at Target and someone came up and said, “Good game the other night.” That had never happened before.
JD: Wait a minute. You shop at Target?
SW: (Laughs) You bet I do. I'm looking for the best deals out there!
JD: You're up for a new deal--a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Is that a distraction in any way?
SW: Absolutely not. We're focused on winning hockey games. I'm not going anywhere. It'll take care of itself.
JD: But did the Olympics make you miss the atmosphere of playing in Canada?
SW: It did. It doesn't get much better than playing in Canada. People just love the game so much. But the fans here in Nashville are great as well.
JD: What specifically does Barry Trotz do so well to survive in an era when a coach's shelf life keeps getting shorter and shorter?
SW: Adjusting to the kind of team we have. Our off-season changes in Nashville have been pretty drastic. We've lost some great players over the years. He realizes each year what we need to do to win with that specific group. If its play with speed, that's what we do. If its play defensively, that's what we do. He's willing to make those changes from year-to-year.
JD: You are a quiet guy. Has being the captain changed you? Do you feel the need to yell more and make big speeches?
SW: No. That would be the worst thing, to change and try to be someone I'm not. I play the same way, and act the same around the guys. There have been times, we lost 5 or 6 in a row earlier, when we've had to stand up and say things, or have a meeting, but this is a great group of guys with me who have been around, so it's been an easy transition.
JD: Will you be watching the World Juniors?
SW: Absolutely. We have TSN at the rink, and I'll be catching every bit I can.
James Duthie's new book of columns, "The Day I Almost Killed Two Gretzkys (And other off-the-wall stories about sports...and life)", is now available. You can order your autographed copy here in the TSN Shop.