Dale Weise watched the play develop as he drifted down the far boards.
Brandon Prust was the first to Andrei Markov’s dump-in, which Tuukka Rask had steered to the corner. After corralling the puck, he narrowly avoided Johnny Boychuk’s attempt to staple him to the boards, pivoting to his left. Looking up, he saw two things: Gregory Campbell didn’t like the idea of Prust going unhit, so he was charging in to rectify that. And in so doing, Campbell had left Daniel Briere wide open up the wall. Prust happily absorbed the hit to make the pass.
Briere surveyed the scene, and what he saw likely made him very happy: rather than stick with Weise, his man, Daniel Paille had opted instead to ignore Weise and glide into no man’s land, just above Matt Bartkowski, who was parked out front. He’d effectively taken himself out of the play, leaving Bartkowski to defend Briere and Weise on a 2-on-1 down low. And with Bartkowski’s back to the former Canuck, he had absolutely no idea.
Weise knew. As soon as Briere turned out from the corner, he realized neither Paille nor Bartkowski had him.
He put his stick on the ice. Briere put the puck on it, and 2:18 into Game 7, Weise put the Canadiens up 1-0 with his third goal of the postseason.
Three goals. That’s three times as many goals as Sidney Crosby had in this postseason. Is Dale Weise better than Sidney Crosby? I’m not saying it. The numbers, they speak for themselves.
Okay. While the NHL playoffs are a breeding ground for the sort of short-sighted thinking that leads to proclamations that Player X is the new best player in the world after a few good games, no one is suggesting that Weise is better than the Penguins’ captain.
But he is better than the Canucks gave him credit for. Weise is making that abundantly clear right now.
Weise joined the Canucks just prior to the 2011-12 season, claimed on waivers from the New York Rangers. He couldn’t have been happier about it. Weise spent three seasons in the AHL as a major contributor for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate Connecticut Whale nee Hartford Wolf Pack, and he had hoped that his work on the farm, combined with a strong training camp, would be enough for a roster spot on the Rangers proper.
It wasn’t. Fortunately, while the Rangers didn’t want him on their opening-day roster, the Canucks, who had inquired about his services the year prior and been rebuffed, did.
But things had changed for the Canucks since they first showed interest. In 2010-11, they were a speed and skill team, relatively uninterested in fisticuffs and goonery, mostly hoping to roll four lines that could play. At the 2011 trade deadline, they acquired Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre, two role players with sandpaper, but far more skill than punch, in an effort to bolster their fourth wave of attack. Regrettably, injuries forced the two much, much higher up the lineup. By the Stanley Cup Final, the Canucks were a three-line team.
They were beaten by a four-line team, the Boston Bruins, and the Canucks emerged from that Final with a different vision. After being pushed around, they deemed pushback much more important.
Had Weise arrived when they intended, he would have relished the way they wanted him to play. But by the time he got there, they mostly just wanted him to punch people. He would have preferred not to.
That’s not to say that he’s a pacifist. After all, Weise racked up 114 penalty minutes in his last full season in the AHL. But he did it while putting up big numbers. The winger didn’t fancy himself a fighter who could play. He fancied himself a player who could fight.
Still, you don’t question your coaching. Weise did as he was told, and he worked on his pugilism, both off the ice and on it.
Weise’s relative disinterest in playing the goon role was never more evident than on January 7, 2012, when his new club had their first rematch with the Bruins since they had to watch the black and gold hoist the Cup in Vancouver. It was a spirited affair, so intense that both clubs seemed pretty much drained of all their passion afterwards.
There were skirmishes aplenty. Just four minutes into the game, Weise dropped the gloves with Nathan Horton. Job over. Glad that’s out of the way. Time to play some real hockey. Except ten minutes later, Adam McQuaid wanted him to go again.
He was about to accept, albeit somewhat reluctantly, when Shawn Thornton jumped in, hoping to initiate Weise into the heavyweight division. This was a bridge too far. Weise declined.
He was roundly mocked. The Boston media, who still don’t understand what makes their team so good despite watching the team, like, a hundred times each year, cited it as evidence that the Canucks are babies and the Bruins are men of valour.
But Weise had a pretty good reason for saying no to Thornton. Fighting Boston’s designated fighter is a tall task, especially when you’ve already expended a ton of energy trading punches with someone else that period. And furthermore, fighting Shawn Thornton means becoming Shawn Thornton. Goons exclusively fight each other. Weise had higher aspirations. He wanted to be an impact player.
“At the end of the day,” he said afterward, “that’s not really the type of guy I want to fight.”
When the NHL lockout shut down the following season, Weise seized the opportunity to play the role he wanted somewhere else. With NHLers spilling out into leagues all over Europe, a team in the tiny Dutch League, the Tilburg Trappers, had promised its fans they’d get one.
They delivered, enticing Dustin Jeffrey of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and announcing the signing just prior to the beginning of their season. The ticket sales started pouring in. Then, days before Jeffrey was supposed to make his debut, he backed out of his contract to follow a friend to Medvescak Zagreb in the Austrian league. It sent the Trappers scrambling for an NHL replacement, and after reaching out to Weise’s agent, he got the call.
“Taking my skills to the land of the Dutch!” he announced on his Facebook page, as he and his girlfriend, Lauren, packed their things and headed to Tilburg.
Weise was a monster in the Dutch League. (You can follow his complete adventures in Europe here.) Not only was he bigger than most guys, but he was stronger, fitter, faster, and much more skilled. He may have been a fourth-liner in the NHL, but in the Eredivisie, he was Mario Lemieux. He put up 48 points in 19 games — 22 goals, and 28 assists. In one game, he scored two shorthanded goals in under 10 minutes. In his next outing, he registered 4 goals and 3 assists.
The Trappers didn’t lose a single game in regulation during his stint, going 16-0-1-2. They outscored their opponents 108-43. (In other words, during his time in the Netherlands, Weise outscored the Trappers’ team goals against total by 5 points.)
In the Netherlands, Weise was treated like the superstar he was. One of his game-worn jerseys auctioned for 850 Euros, which is about $1100 Canadian. He and Lauren became a Dutch power-couple. When the NHL finally called him home, he stayed in Europe for one more night to say goodbye to the fans of his adopted city. They gave him a standing ovation.
“I’ll try to keep this as simple English as I can here,” Weise said in his farewell address. “When I first found out I was coming to Tilburg, I was really excited, I didn’t know what to expect, and after coming here and seeing how passionate you fans are and how amazing you guys are in this city, I couldn’t have picked a better place to come to.”
It was a star turn for Weise, who had sorely missed being an impact player since arriving in Vancouver. At one point, he admitted to a Dutch outlet that he had hoped his time in the Netherlands would remind the Canucks of what he could do.
It really didn’t. After the brief intermission, Weise returned to the Canucks, who didn’t much care that he was the Eric Lindros of Europe, and resumed his role as reluctant goon. Unsurprisingly, he never looked all that comfortable in it, and a little ways into the season, the Canucks made another waiver claim, snagging Tom Sestito from the Philadelphia Flyers.
That spelled the beginning of the end for Weise. When John Tortorella arrived the following year, asking for even more glove-dropping, Weise began to fade into the background. On many nights, he looked disinterested. He was probably about as unamused by the two-second performance he had versus the Calgary Flames on the night John Tortorella stormed the Flames’ hallway as everyone else.
And Weise was probably a little embarrassed when he learned that Canucks GM Mike Gillis had sent out a mass e-mail informing the league’s other teams that Weise could be had for next to nothing, although he likely appreciates it now. He was acquired by the Montreal Canadiens, who were looking to lose defencemen Raphael Diaz, and flesh out their bottom-six at the same time.
Michel Therrien’s vision for his fourth line mirrored the Canucks’ back in 2010-11. Rather than a trio of facepunchers, Therrien wanted three guys who could play. He assembled a line of Weise, Brandon Prust, and Daniel Briere, and in the postseason, the trio came alive.
It helps that they went up against Boston’s fourth line, which is far more traditional — a fancy way of saying less-talented. Weise’s opening tally in Game 7 was scored against that group, and the defence they play on the tally is about on par with the defence they normally play. It’s a weakness the Canadiens were able to prey on throughout the series, and it’s one of the reasons they won. Finally, Dale Weise has been vindicated.
The day after the Eastern Conference Final, Weise is being talked about in the same breath as Milan Lucic. Not that they’re comparable players — they aren’t. It’s mostly because Lucic talked some garbage to Weise in the handshake line — “I’m going to f***ing kill you next year,” he reportedly said — but still. The same breath. They’re sharing headlines. And for a guy that always saw himself as more Lucic than Thornton, that has to feel, well, beyond good right now.
Dale Weise has come full circle. Three years after the New York Rangers let him go, he now returns to New York as a member of the Canadiens, but he’s not just a member. He’s also a contributor.
He is who he thought he was, and now the rest of the world is beginning to think the same way.Tags: dale weise