Following practice on Friday, Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber reminisced about his time with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League (WHL). The WHL, part of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), the premier junior hockey league covering Canada and parts of the United States, is known for producing hard-hitting, physical hockey players. Weber isn’t any different. The 6’4″, 233-pound defenseman from Sicamous, British Columbia got his start with Kelowna, but it didn’t come easy at first. Weber originally went undrafted to begin his junior career. It’s something that motivated him to be better.

“Not getting drafted kind of pushed me to keep going,” said Weber. “I was listed halfway through the next year, but I knew I was property of them. I was lucky that they saw something in me and gave me a chance.”

Weber only played five games for the Rockets as a 15-year old in the 2001-02 season. The next season, his full rookie campaign with the club, he played 70 games and recorded 18 points (2G-16A) and a +25. Throughout his three full years with Kelowna, his point totals began to rise. During his senior campaign, the 2004-05 season, Weber tallied 41 points in 55 games. On top of that, Weber helped lead the Rockets to the Memorial Cup with 17 points (9g-8A) in 18 playoff games. It was a major accomplishment for him and the team, especially since Kelowna played host to the Memorial Cup that season.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Weber. “Playing in your hometown in the Memorial Cup as a host team is pretty special. I think that the city did a great job of putting on the Memorial Cup and obviously we were lucky enough to win it.”

Junior hockey tends to make or break players on if they are ready for the National Hockey League. If a player doesn’t succeed in juniors, it’s unlikely that they will be able to take the next step. The Kelowna Rockets gave Shea Weber that chance and he’s obviously been able to succeed.

“They gave me an opportunity to play junior hockey and I’m very grateful for that,” said Weber. “I had a lot of great experiences there and memories that I’ll never forget.”

An instrumental piece in the Shea Weber that we all see today is the coaching staff for the Rockets at the time he was there. Jeff Truitt was a coach with the Kelowna Rockets from 2000-2007. In his last three years with the organization, he was the head coach of the team. In his first season as head coach, Truitt took the team to win the Memorial Cup. Truitt and his staff played a pivotal role in the development of Weber as a player and a person.

“All the coaches there helped me and developed me as a person and player,” said Weber. “I was such a young kid moving away from home and they were influential on my life. I’m very thankful for everything they’ve done.”

Being away from home for hockey creates a continuing theme for players that come out of the Canadian major junior system in the sense of brotherhood. The majority of players in the league move far from home. Creating a sense of family is important for not just the team’s success, but for the players to be happy and continue growing and becoming men. Friendships and bonds are formed that last a lifetime.

“A lot of guys live there in the summer now,” said Weber on keeping in touch with teammates from his time with the Rockets. “Whether it’s keeping in touch by phone or actually seeing them in the summer, it’s definitely a lot of guys.”

Fortunately for Weber, he was only a couple hours from his home in Sicamous. Both cities hold a special place for him. Not only is that part of the country full of beautiful scenery and great hockey, it’s home.

“It’s home, that’s what makes it so special,” said Weber on why the area means so much to him. “You never forget where you grew up, so I definitely like going back there. My dad still lives there, so I go back there in the summer as much as I can to visit him and spend time there.”

While Weber goes back to British Columba during the summer, it’s pretty certain that all Predators fans are glad that he calls Nashville home during the hockey season.

*Photo credit Sicamous Hockey School*