24 October 2010

Remember When: Mike Weaver

Wolves fans from the early 2000s remember Mike Weaver fondly, and he shares the same sentiment for the Chicago organization and its fans. Although the veteran defenseman has spent almost five full seasons in the National Hockey League since his time in Chicago, he still has great memories from his time in the Windy City.


Like most Wolves alumni who were part of one of the organization's four championships, Weaver notes the 2002 Calder Cup championship as his favorite memory, but it wasn't the only reason he loved playing in Chicago.


"Obviously winning the Calder tops my list of memories," he said. "But right up there was playing for John Anderson and Marty Howe, the friendships I made with the guys on the team, and, obviously, the city. The fans are the best fans I have had, even though it is a minor league team. They don't run it like a minor league team. They run it NHL-style. They are well organized. They give back to the fans. They love to be a part of the fans lives.


"The Chicago Wolves aren't just a hockey organization, they are a family," Weaver continued. "From the ownership to the personnel working, I think they are just a first-class organization that I was fortunate to be a part of. There is a reason why they were outdrawing the Blackhawks for a time, and it is because of the way that the team is run. People want to go to a place where they are valued as customers and where they can enjoy a great game of hockey, and the Wolves offer that."


Having played in raucous hockey rinks around North America -- from Munn Ice Arena at Michigan State University to the Canadian confines of General Motors Place, home of the Vancouver Canucks -- Wheeler remembers Wolves fans as some of the best.


"In Chicago, you are in a hockey climate with diehard fans that were there game in and game out and were always supporting us and cheering," he said. "They are some of the loudest fans I have ever heard."


For all the esteem Weaver has for the organization, nothing tops the memory of winning the Calder Cup. When Weaver joined the Wolves, he had just come off his first professional season playing for the Orlando Solar Bears of the International Hockey League, and helped that team to the 2001 Turner Cup championship. One year later, he was back in a long playoff run, culminating in the Wolves first Calder Cup championship.


"Winning the cup in Chicago, we set the record for most games played in a postseason [with 25], so that in itself, when it was said and done... I just look back on the experience and it was about each guy in the dressing room pushing the other one to last longer and to keep going from game to game. It really made a lifetime of memories."


Weaver, who has played in 339 regular-season NHL games to date, also began to explore another part of professional hockey while with the Wolves: contributions outside the rink. Between library visits as part of the Wolves "Read to Succeed" program and hospital visits to young children in the community, Weaver took pride in giving back while with the Wolves.


"The way I look at it, we are given this opportunity to play hockey for a job and I really think that part of it is to take time and give back to the community," he said. "Players should want to do it. I feel that a lot of players go above and beyond what is expected and don't want to do it for recognition. I love the guys that don't want credit for it, because those are the type of guys that you want on the ice with you. You want to play hard for those guys.


"I think hockey has really shaped me as a person," Weaver continued. "You can take one hockey player from Chicago and another from Timbuktu and they have the same mentality. Hockey players are down to earth and we want to reach out to the community, and I think it is great. That is what I love about being a professional hockey player. We are guys that will help a community and not complain about having to go to a hospital at Christmas time because we find it enjoyable to visit the kids and see a smile here and there. We are given this opportunity and I think it is great to give back."


Weaver has continued to give back since he left the Wolves. Currently a member of the Florida Panthers, the 32-year-old blueliner spends his offseason running his hockey camps, Defense First, with kids of all ages, from aspiring young defenseman to elite blueliners hoping to make it at the professional level.


Now a 10-year veteran, Weaver takes nothing for granted and looks back at his time in Chicago with fond memories and as an important step to where he is today.


You can check out Weaver's hockey camp website at DefenseFirst.com.