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Small market Shea Weber steps onto big stage with Canada at the Olympics

By Robin Short

Vancouver - Meet Shea Weber, all 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds of him.

An imposing presence indeed, but to some Canadian hockey fans, this Olympian might be somewhat of an unknown quantity.

That’s what happens when you toil in the home of the banjo, Nashville, Tenn., the Witness Protection Program of the National Hockey League.

But to those within the NHL and certainly to Steve Yzerman and his Olympic team management group, Weber is hardly obscure.

He is, in fact, one of the game’s best defencemen. Truth be told, if he wasn’t in Nashville, but rather Boston (read Chara, Zdeno) or Detroit (Lidstrom, Nicklas) some may argue he’d have a Norris Trophy on his mantle by now.

Though only 24, Weber has a decorated international career with a world championship gold medal in 2007 and silver last spring, when he was named the tournament’s top defenceman. He was also part of the gold medal world junior team in 2005, when it’s said Canada iced its best-ever squad (seven players from that team — Weber, Brent Seabrook, Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Patrice Bergeron — are on the 2010 Olympic team).

But it’s one thing to play in the worlds, where the rosters are comprised of NHL playoff castoffs. It’s quite another to play on the Olympic squad, where the best of the best have converged.

So is Weber looking at Vancouver as an opportunity to shine his burgeoning star?

“Not at all,” he said. “Whatever the (coaching) staff asks me to do, I’ll do it. If that’s sitting on the bench and cheering guys on, it doesn’t matter. I’ll play whatever role they want. Whatever it takes to win.”

But don’t expect Weber to be fetching water bottles any time soon.

In Canada’s 8-0 rout of Norway in its tournament opener Tuesday night, the product of Sicamous, B.C. logged 19 minutes of ice time. Only Dan Boyle saw more action.

Not bad when you consider the red and white boasts the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and the Chicago Blackhawks’ dynamic duo of Seabrook and Duncan Keith, who have been making quite a name for themselves lately, too.

“It doesn’t take long to learn to play with those guys,” Weber said, singling out the veterans Niedermayer and Pronger. “I mean, they’re so good. The way they handle themselves out there. It’s unreal. They’re so calm and relaxed...nothing seems to get to them.”

Drafted 49th overall in 2003, Weber has 11 goals and 35 points through 59 games with the Predators this season. Much of his offense comes from his sizzling shot, one that routinely clocks above 100 miles per hour.

Big shot, indeed.

“Everyone dreams of playing in the Olympics, in the big games, against the best players,” he said. “It’s exciting, a lot of fun. I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

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