April 18, 2014, TAMPA, Fla. (ISN) – When the Tampa Bay Lightning defence left Dale Weise alone in front of the net for his Game 1 overtime winner, it was clear they didn’t know he was once considered an offensive superstar.
In the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens forward is a fourth-line grinder, but in a previous job he was no stranger to scoring goals. During last year’s lockout, Weise had 22 goals and 26 assists in 19 games for the Tilburg Trappers in the Netherlands.
“Has anybody scored at that clip anywhere?” Weise said, leading to answers like Sidney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky. “Yeah, that’s about it.”
Weise was the only NHL player to ever appear in the Eredivisie, the country’s top hockey league, earning the nickname “Dutch Gretzky” back in North America. That made the 25-year-old a star in the Netherlands, with people lining up for his autograph and Weise being unable to go to the grocery store without drawing attention.
“It was awesome,” Weise said Friday. “It meant a lot that I made that big of an impact on people in such a short time.
“I gained as much from them as they did from me. There were great people there.”
Weise’s experience in the Netherlands might’ve prepared him for some of the spotlight he got for being the playoff overtime hero. But he got a new cell number a couple of months ago so the onslaught of text messages wasn’t as substantial as it might’ve been.
The goal itself was something Weise had scored countless times before, just fooling around in practice. In doing it for real, the Winnipeg native channelled a Hockey Hall of Famer.
“I knew I was wide open and I saw it coming to me and my eyes got real big,” Weise said. “I knew I wasn’t going to miss from there.
“I got down on one leg, the old Brett Hull, and I just ripped it.”
Fans in Tilburg saw it plenty of times, too. Weise was a fan favourite there, in part because of his dominant play but also because he became part of the community.
“The way it works is a lot of guys on the team had jobs in the morning, so they would go do that and then we’d practise in the afternoon,” Weise recalled. “I had nothing to do, so they had a lot of children’s camps, so I pretty much went there every day.
“My wife would go to the gym and it was right by the rink so I’d just go and hang out with the kids. It was awesome. They loved it. It was a great experience.”
Life in the NHL is much different. Hockey for most players in the Netherlands was a hobby, he said, while this is the biggest stage.
Weise, who grew up a Montreal fan and “probably scored that goal a million times in my driveway,” said he didn’t take any time consider his place in franchise history.
“I went home and kind of forget about it,” he said.
It’ll take some time to forget about Weise, even as the series progresses through Game 2 on Friday night and beyond. But what’s most memorable for him is not just one goal but how getting traded from the Vancouver Canucks to Montreal gave him another opportunity.
“I just feel like my career got rejuvenated,” he said. “The coaches here believe in me, they’ve had nothing but good things to say about me and look at the amount we were playing in overtime.
“It’s a coach that has some trust in me and that just instills confidence in me. I just feel like every game I play with this team I continue to build confidence and get better.”
Logo photo: Mike Carlson , Getty Images