Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I’m not going to hold your hand – NHLer Doug Weight ‘weighs’ in on his hometown hero and what it takes to be a leader in the NHL

“I don’t try and go out of my way to take a player under my wing, but if I see a young guy who needs to be talked to as far as something he can improve on, then I’ll do it.”

Does your resume read like this: a Stanley Cup ring; scored over 1000 points; an Olympic silver medal, four all-star appearances; captain of the Edmonton Oilers; assistant captain of four different NHL teams; and 20 years of NHL experience? If you can answer yes to all of the above, then you might be Doug Weight.

Born in Warren, Michigan, Doug Weight, a 38 year-old self-proclaimed Red Wings fan, entered high school just as Detroit’s Yzerman era was beginning. Weight admits that Yzerman, only five years his senior, was the kind of player he modelled himself after.

“Yzerman was always my favourite player. The way he played, the way he carried himself, that’s what made him great,” reflects Weight.

Few would dispute the fact that Yzerman was one of the greatest players in NHL history. Besides his knack for scoring big goals and racking up impressive statistics, it was Yzerman’s leadership that marked him as a true great, captaining the Detroit Red Wings from the age of 21 years old and over nearly two decades.

According to Weight, Yzerman is the benchmark for what great leadership really is, and what it really means to be a great leader, is being a player who is genuinely dedicated to their team.

“What a leader does is prepare themself to be a professional. Be early [to the rink], be yourself, and play hard every shift, even if it’s just practice,” says Weight.

He also believes that there is a sort of romanticism surrounding leadership and people’s impressions of what makes a great leader in the NHL. People feel veterans have to take a young player under their wing, directing them at every turn. To Weight, this couldn’t be farther from the truth:

I don’t try and go out of my way to take a player under my wing, but if I see a young guy who needs to be talked to as far as something he can improve on, then I’ll do it. I’ve been in that situation before as young player, and you don’t really want to hear something every time you come off the ice. If I feel in my heart that they need to hear something, I’ll do it. Or, if I have to, I’ll drop the gloves with someone to protect a young guy or I’ll invite a younger guy over for dinner at my house. But mostly, it’s important to be genuine and not just act the part.

Weight goes on to explain that if team management is doing their job properly, there is no need to take a player under your wing. Organizations should be drafting players who have the right character, who already have the drive, determination, and the willingness to sacrifice everything for the good of the team.

A true professional gives it their all no matter what team they play for. But, Weight also acknowledges the fact that there are things you dream of as a kid, one place you dream of playing.

As a kid, every player in the NHL dreamt of being a hometown hero. Players dream of someday playing for the team they grew up loving. Weight always dreamt of wearing the red and white of Motown, streaking down the ice at Joe Louis Arena in front of a sold out crowd. A dream which would’ve included wearing the same jersey that was once worn by such greats as Gordie Howe, Paul Coffey, Marcel Dionne, Steve Yzerman, and Doug Harvey, players who helped define the game and make Detroit great.

Although Weight was almost traded to Detroit from St. Louis in 2002, the deal fell through at the last minute. For Weight, being a hometown hero didn’t quite happen:

There are a lot of factors involved with trades and free agent signings, you can’t always pick where you play. It’s always a dream to play where you grow up. I was always a huge fan [of Detroit] and that jersey will always have a special place in my heart, but it’s an honour to just be in this league, play a great sport and be able to make a living off of it.

And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about? Simply loving the game?

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