You know him as one of the NHL’s superstars, perhaps the best player in Predators’ history. You know him as the highest-paid player in Nashville history and as the team’s captain.
But do you really know Shea Weber? Given that the 28-year-old is immensely private and humble, that combination doesn’t necessarily make it easy for fans to understand what makes Nashville’s superstar tick.
We at Sports & Entertainment Nashville wanted to help you do so, but given that others seem to like to talk more about Weber than he does, we had a challenge.
So, we decided to talk to the people who know him best. We spent time with Predators’ goalie Pekka Rinne, defenseman Kevin Klein and coach Barry Trotz to bring you a view of Weber through their eyes. Here’s a rare look at the cornerstone of Nashville’s beloved hockey franchise.
The Predators drafted Weber in the second round (49th overall pick) of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. It turned out to be a steal, as Weber made his NHL debut on January 6, 2006. On the way, he stopped at Nashville’s minor league affiliate, Milwaukee, for part of a year. He and Rinne were teammates, and right away, Nashville’s goalie saw special qualities in Weber.
“I think right away back then, you could just tell that he was a special player. He has that demeanor and self-confidence, but in a humble way. He was a guy who was confident but easy to kind of follow,” Rinne remembers.
The reserved Weber was just 20 when he made his debut. He would spend some more time in the minors after the Predators were eliminated from the playoffs that spring, but he was back the following season. That first full season of 2006-07, Weber compiled 40 points and was selected to the NHL YoungStars Game. That winter established him as someone who belonged in the NHL for good.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2010. The Predators had just traded captain Jason Arnott to Detroit. Thus, they needed another captain. It didn’t take Trotz long to nab Weber.
“It was easy. He’s an easy guy to follow. There’s some guys that are always rah-rah and all that,” Trotz says. “What makes Shea a good captain is he walks the walk. Other guys will talk the talk and not necessarily walk the walk. He walks the walk. So it’s easy to follow him. I think the intensity he brings to the game and the respect that he’s garnered from his peers make him a very good captain.”
Three years later, Trotz has seen Weber continue to grow into the role.
“I think in his younger years, he was probably a little more quiet and respectful,” Trotz says. “Now I think he’s growing into what he wants this team to be, and so I think that’s the growing process he’s going through right now.”
That leadership came in handy last year, when it became obvious in the season’s final weeks that the Predators, wracked by injuries, obviously wouldn’t be going back to the playoffs. Trotz remarked how well Weber played during the stretch, but it was Weber’s behind-the-scenes effort to keep the team from crumbling that caught Klein’s eye.
“I think it was a great job by him and the whole leadership group, just trying to stay on track,” Klein recalls. “When that many things go wrong — it seems like every night, someone was getting hurt — the half-year was weird, just the way everything was jammed in and the travel and everything. He did a good job just staying composed and not losing a handle on the team.”
The thing Trotz likes most is Weber’s “team-first” attitude.
“He’s a good person. He cares about the group. There are times I’ll say to Shea, ‘Do you want this or do you want that?’ And he’ll say, ‘No, we all should do it. I shouldn’t get any special privilege.’ With a lot of players, you talk to other coaches and they’ll say, ‘I’ve got to get this guy this, he wants this,’ Shea? Whatever’s best for the team, that’s what he’s doing,” Trotz says.
The Teammate Behind the Scenes
Weber may be a private guy, but he’s less guarded around his teammates. When those teammates talk about Weber’s off-ice persona, his love for all things sports quickly becomes obvious.
In particular, Weber’s passion for fantasy sports is well-documented. He’s a ringleader in organizing leagues for teammates, and trades and roster moves are always a topic of locker room conversation. It’s all in good fun, but it’s obvious that Weber takes them seriously.
“It gets pretty intense and pretty competitive when we play fantasy football and fantasy baseball,” Rinne says with a smile. “It’s pretty heated. Guys are making trades and trying to do all that kind of stuff.”
As with many of the world’s top athletes, it’s hard for Weber to turn off the competitive streak, even when it comes to owning an imaginary team.
“He’s always trying to wheel and deal, I know that much. He’s taken some draft picks off guys. There’s really been an intimidation factor over the years,” Klein says with a laugh.
Weber also organizes some more light-hearted pursuits around sports. He organizes an annual baseball game among his teammates and group outings to see sporting events, including some off-season trips to Dallas and Chicago.
One of Weber’s most frequent stops is just down the road at Hawkins Field, where Vanderbilt plays baseball. He and teammates are frequent spectators at VU games, and Commodore coach Tim Corbin knows Weber well.
“He loves baseball, and Tim Corbin and Shea have a really good relationship. Tim lets him come out on the field and shag flies or whatever. That’s great. He’s still got the kid in him, which is really important in a game with a lot of pressure, with being captain and high profile and all those things. It’s really something. [It’s] a unique quality that he has,” Trotz says.
Most of all, Weber is able to connect with teammates.
“He’s usually up for anything that involves spending time with teammates. If it’s some funny competition, he’s always in it,” Rinne says.
“What you’ll find with Shea — when he’s just with the guys and away from the coaching staff — is that he’s fun-loving, loves to laugh, loves to have fun with his peers. Just a guy’s guy is probably the best way to say it,” Trotz adds.
The Role Model
The same qualities that make Weber a great captain also make him a good human being. Weber is appreciative of Nashville and tries to give back in a number of ways, and it’s not for show.
“He’s very respectful to authority and to people, fans, all that,” Trotz says. “Extremely respectful. He treats them with a lot of respect and gives a lot of his time and does a lot of stuff quietly. He doesn’t make a big jingle about what he’s doing or what he’s up to. He’s a private guy.”
One of Weber’’s most meaningful contributions is his involvement in Best Buddies, an organization that connects children with Down’s Syndrome with volunteers who give of their time. Through the organization, he and Rinne have adopted a young man named Mike.
“They bring him to games, they take him bowling. They love to do stuff together,” says Trotz, who himself is the father of a child with Down’s Syndrome. “They call him and do a lot of neat things. They don’t really have to, but they value that.”
Weber has also gone out of his way to help teammates within the organization, going as far as having young teammates stay with him at his home when they first become Predators. As training camp started this summer, Weber was already active in mentoring 2013 first-rounder Seth Jones, who’ll be logging a lot of minutes with Weber defending the Predators’ blue line, and probably sooner rather than later.
The thing that stands out the most about Weber — and Trotz says this about Rinne, the team’s other superstar also — is the uncommon humility they both have. Look around the sports landscape of superstars and the things that come with it — constant self-promotion on Twitter, diva behavior and demands of special treatment — and contrast that with the way both live their lives.
“They’re as humble as it comes with superstars. They’re low-key, they treat fans with respect, they’re not up on the chair looking down at everybody. They’re just good, salt-of-the-earth guys, and these days that’s hard to find,” Trotz says.
This story is available thanks to the sponsorship of Fifth Third Bank