For those on the outside, it is difficult to understand the first-year captain of the Predators. He is quiet, succinct, stoic but polite. To those who know him well, he is funny, smart, kid-like.
For anyone, the easy part is describing him as a player. At age 25, Weber is one of the best young defensemen in the NHL, a rock star in Canada, an Olympic gold-medal winner, an All-Star whose slapshots rip twine, break bones and create myths.
Friends and family marvel more at his ability to deal with quick success and sudden loss.
"When you talk to people about players who make it to the NHL, they talk about the way that player changes," said Cody Franson, a Predators defenseman and Weber's friend since childhood. "Every time I talk to someone about Shea, it's always the same: he's the same exact kid. It says a lot about the way he was brought up."
It starts in his hometown. There are 3,192 people who live in Sicamous, British Columbia. It is a living postcard. Lakes skirt mountains. Houseboats outnumber cars. Visitors can go snowmobiling in the morning and play golf on lush grass in the afternoon.
This is where James Weber, a sawmill worker, and his wife, Tracy, started their family. Shea was the first born. Brandon came along two years later.
"He is a guy that you can definitely look up to and model yourself after," Weber said of his father, who still resides in the area. "As a young kid, you can't quite put your hands around it. You just want to play and have fun. He's the type of guy that made you mow the lawn and do the dishes."
Hockey was prevalent in the household, even though the father played only one season as a kid and was more into rugby. The family gathered around the TV on Saturdays for Hockey Night in Canada. Weber was six when he played on his first organized hockey team.
"There wasn't too much method to the madness," he said. "Just a bunch of kids flying around and having fun."
One of the kids was Franson. He and Brandon were best friends and two years younger than Shea.
"We were all athletic," Franson said, "but Shea was the kind of kid who was a little bit better than everyone else."
Franson's father, Cal, began working at the rink in Sicamous the year Cody was born in 1987. Cal was friends with Shea's mother in high school. Years later at the rink he met a shy 6-year-old named Shea Weber.
"In a facility like that, you can tell which kids are out of hand and which aren't," Cal Franson said. "I never had a problem with Shea. He was a very respectful child."
Weber later became frustrated, however. His goal was to play in the NHL, and Sicamous wasn't a hotbed of youth hockey talent. His parents never pushed him, but supported his love of the game.
"My dad would work these long hours, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.," Weber said. "He would come home, we would eat dinner, then he would coach us at practice at 6 p.m. If anyone was leading by example, it was definitely him."
His father was a stickler for details. His mother was an unconditional supporter.
"After a game, Dad would let you hear it on the way home if you did something wrong," Weber said. "Mom was the one to tell you that you didn't do anything wrong."
From age 14 to 15, Weber went from a 5-foot-9 kid to a 6-foot-2 man. A little gangly, he said, but talented enough to get looks from scouts.
Everything was looking up. People who mattered in hockey knew his name. Then life happened. His mother's migraines began.
'A Great Mom'
Weber was 15 when the first tests were ordered on his mother. A brain tumor was found. Surgery removed most of it, but the tumor went deep. Chemotherapy and radiation followed.
Years passed. Things were looking great.
"Two or three years ago, they found something else in there," Weber said. "They weren't sure if it was another tumor or if it was just fluid on the spot where they did surgery. They tried another couple of surgeries."
Back at home earlier this year, Tracy began to have nonstop seizures. Doctors placed her in a coma. On Aug. 11, with her husband and two sons at her side, Tracy Weber died.
"She fought hard," Shea said. "She's an inspiration. If you want to look up to someone who is a warrior, someone that fights to the end and doesn't give up, that is her."
The sadness of her death is being replaced by fond, sometimes funny memories.
"How many times did she break up fights with me and my brother?" Weber asked, smiling. "She was a great mom."
Tracy was alive to see Shea selected in the NHL Draft. It was 2003, in Nashville. Here he was, being taken in the second round by the Predators, achieving a dream that began at home.
"I remember it was hot as heck," Weber said. "Being so far away in the northwest, I never really heard about Nashville being a hockey city. But once I got here, I was amazed how much fan support there is."
His first full season in Nashville was 2006-07, and he quickly made an impression. For all of his abilities, however, he became best known for something completely opposite of his personality: something that is loud and can be hurtful.
His slapshot is feared throughout the NHL. At the 2009 All-Star Game during the Hardest Shot competition, Weber's blast was clocked at 103.4 mph, second only to Zdeno Chara (105.4 mph).
Weber's shot is so hard that it has broken bones of four Nashville teammates.
"You don't want to hurt anyone," he said. "And I'm not trying to hit anyone. I'm just trying to score."
His shot's lore soared at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Team Canada was playing Germany. The puck came up the wall. Weber pulled it and shot it. He knew he had beaten the goalie, but the puck came to rest in the corner of the ice near the boards.
Weber pleaded with the ref for a video replay. It showed the puck going through the net.
"That's the thing I'm known for by little kids," Weber said with a laugh. " 'You're the guy who put the puck through the net!' "
His slapshot had been honed for years. At age 12, his father bought an old net at the local rink and brought home plywood from the sawmill. He placed the plywood in front of the goal.
"I guess he was tired of me putting holes in the street hockey net and having to re-net it," Weber said. "I always tried to shoot it hard."
Weber's rise to real stardom began when he came back home from Vancouver. The Olympics put him into the hockey stratosphere. Team Canada won the gold medal in an epic final against the United States.
"It could be argued that without Shea Weber and (Chicago defenseman) Duncan Keith, Canada wouldn't have won gold," said Pierre McGuire, an analyst for NBC and TSN. "Weber is a superstar player."
It is still difficult for Weber to believe, winning a gold medal in his home country and home province. He doesn't break out the medal often, but his favorite showing was back home over the summer. At a gathering for Sicamous youth hockey, kids held the medal and he signed autographs.
"It's just neat to see the looks on the kids' faces, because I know I was one of those kids before, dreaming and looking up to some players," Weber said. "It's pretty cool to have that effect."
In July, Weber was at home on the couch, watching television, when coach Barry Trotz and general manager David Poile called.
"I thought I had gotten traded, or was in trouble for something," he laughed.
Nothing of the sort. They called to tell Weber he would be Nashville's new captain, replacing recently traded Jason Arnott.
"I got a lot of texts and calls congratulating me," Weber said. "Arnie was one of those guys. He was a great inspiration for me and a great leader."
There are 23 players on Nashville's roster, and 17 are older than Weber. It's heady stuff for a 25-year-old single hockey star: a gold medal, stardom, captaincy, a $4.5 million salary this year, with a new, more lucrative contract coming soon.
"Shea Weber, to me, is one of the top 10 players in the league," McGuire said.
Weber takes a bigger-picture approach.
"The past year, it was the highest of highs," Weber said. "You win something that is so big and prestigious, and then you lose a person that is so close to you. It's been up, and it's been down. You have to balance everything out. You have to live life the way your loved ones want you to live."
Back In Sicamous
This is Cal Franson's 24th year tending to the rink in Sicamous. He sees little kids wearing No. 6 Shea Weber jerseys. It makes him smile.
His grins are bigger when Cody and Weber come home, when they just want to skate around late at night.
"Shea asks me specifically if it's OK," Cal said. "He always makes sure he thanks me when he leaves."
Next offseason, Weber will ask permission from another man.
After three decades of working in sawmills, James Weber was laid off.
He is now working with Cal at the local rink.
Home sweet home.
|For more information:|