Mike Weaver has done all right for a player who was never selected at the National Hockey League draft.
The Canadiens re-signed the veteran defenceman during the Canada Day free-agent sweepstakes, giving him a one-year contract worth $1.75 million. It is the most lucrative one-year salary the 36-year-old will earn as he enters his 13th season in the NHL and, according to capgeek.com, will boost his career earnings to $8.275 million.
Not bad for a guy who has only scored eight goals in 602 career NHL games.
So it should come as no surprise that Weaver operates the Defense First Hockey School during the summer. His partner is Jon Insana, a former minor-league defenceman who was Weaver’s teammate at Michigan State University.
“Our big thing is initiate and dictate as opposed to read and react,” is how Insana explained the school’s philosophy over the phone this week from Michigan. “Trying to be a step ahead and seeing things develop and being pre-positioned properly so you’re not always reacting a step behind.”
He basically described Weaver.
When Insana arrived at Michigan State for his freshman season in 1998-99, after playing with the U.S. junior national team, coach Ron Mason told him to watch Weaver, who was starting his third year of university hockey.
“He kind of made it clear for me to keep an eye on Mike, the way he played and the way he conducted himself on and off the ice,” Insana recalled.
“Honestly, it took a while to see exactly what made him the player that he is,” Insana added. “The obvious things that he did well, he always kept things simple, he made the smart play always, was never caught out of position. But once you really watch what he does, he’s a pretty dynamic defensive player, which is hard to see and kind of hard to describe. But the same way that the great offensive players do unusual things offensively to create those opportunities, he does just as much defensively, which is an unusual characteristic in a player.”
This marks the 10th year that the Defense First Hockey School has been in operation. There are camps later this month in East Lansing, Mich., where Insana is the head instructor, and in Toronto, where Weaver is in charge. There are two age groups, 11-13 and 14-17.
“The age kind of indicates what our intentions are,” Insana said. “Eleven- to 12-years-old we feel is an appropriate age to really start developing better hockey players, not just better individual skills and techniques and things, but actually learning to see the game differently.
“The perception from a lot of kids, and myself included at a young age, you always assume that you have to be flashy, something that stands out head and shoulders above the rest,” he added. “The things we talk about at our camp and the things that are evident in Mike’s play is you don’t have to do the flashy things. Consistency is a skill and it’s something that you have to learn … showing up every night and every practice and coming in with that professional attitude that Mike does has allowed him to kind of overcome a lot of overwhelmingly big obstacles in his career. That’s the biggest thing. You don’t have to have the best hands on the ice or do the fancy spinaramas and all the other things to be noticed and to be appreciated by your coaches and your teammates.”
Weaver, who is only 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, was passed over at the NHL draft and got his chance after former Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell went to scout one of his Michigan State teammates, but was impressed by Weaver’s physical, defensive style of play and offered him a $25,000 signing bonus after he graduated.
Insana also wasn’t drafted by the NHL and went on to log many miles during an 11-year minor-league career, including stops with the Manchester Monarchs, Trenton Titans, Florida Everblades, Lowell Lock Monsters, Muskegon Fury, Grand Rapids Griffins, Cleveland Barons, Chicago Wolves and Houston Aeros. He also played for the Iserlohn Roosters in Germany and for Vienna and Innsbruck in Austria before hanging up his skates following the 2012-13 season. He studied kinesiology and exercise science at university and now works in medical sales in Michigan for Biomet.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin acquired Weaver from the Florida Panthers at last season’s NHL trade deadline in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick. Weaver’s old-school defensive game made him a fan favourite as he posted 1-6-7 totals and a plus-9 in 17 regular-season games, followed by 1-3-4 totals and a plus-8 in 17 playoff games. He also made the Dream Weaver song from the 1970s by Gary Wright a hit again in Montreal.
When Weaver spoke to the Montreal media on a conference call after signing his new contract, he was asked if there was interest in his services from other teams besides the Canadiens.
“There was probably about 29 teams interested in me,” he said with a laugh.
“There were a few teams that called me, called my agent,” he added more realistically, “and I knew that I wasn’t kind of a first wave of players that were going to be going, I was probably going to be the second or even third. I’ve known that all my career, it’s been like that, so it wasn’t anything new. But I’m glad I really didn’t have to wait for that. I’m glad it happened right away and I’m happy to be a part of the Montreal Canadiens again and be here for a full entire year and be back in a hockey city with great fans.”
Insana was asked to describe his friend Weaver as a person.
“He’s very real … that’s the easiest way to describe him,” Insansa said. “Exactly what you see is what you get with him. He approaches everything with the same work ethic and attitude.
“He’s kind of a computer geek,” Insana added. “He designed our website for the hockey school, he was a telecommunications major in college. The assumption about hockey players and athletes is that they don’t get too deep into that kind of stuff, but that’s almost a close second to hockey as far as what he’s passionate about.”
He’s also passionate about defence.
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