Capitals defenseman Mike Weber is not ashamed to admit it. As a child growing up just 20 miles north of downtown Pittsburgh, he always wanted to be a Penguin.
There was one problem, however, his grandmother was a diehard Steelers fans and so was everyone else in his family.
“The town bleeds black and gold,” said Weber, who is expected to be in the lineup tonight at Consol Energy Cenrer in place of the suspended Brooks Orpik when the Capitals face the Penguins in Game 3 of their second-round playoff series.
“I grew up with that mindset. In school it was all about football.”
As a tall, athletic teenager, Weber played defensive back and defensive line, but after watching Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis and Paul Coffey win two Stanley Cups in the early 1990s at the old Igloo, his true love was hockey.
“I played football for a few years, until I had to choose between football and hockey,” Weber said. “It was an easy decision. I wanted to be a Penguin. I didn’t fit in that well in school. I’m sure hockey is a lot more popular now than it was when I was coming up.
“They take (football) pretty serious in Western Pennsylvania and when I missed one football practice for a hockey game they kind of gave me the ultimatum. I said, ‘OK, see ya later.’”
Weber attended Seneca Valley High School in Cranberry Township, close to where the Penguins practice today, and moved to Tecumseh, Ontario, where he played four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the second round of the 2006 NHL draft.
One of Weber’s greatest hockey memories was recording his first NHL point in his first-ever game at the old Igloo, which is now a parking lot across the street from Consol. His family and friends were there to share the moment.
“It was special because I went to a few Penguins games as a kid and listened on the radio on the way back from late-night hockey practices,” Weber recalled. “They catapulted me into watching and wanting to play and it worked out pretty well.”
Weber spent his entire NHL career with the Sabres before they traded him to the Capitals for a third-round draft pick just before February’s NHL trade deadline.
In his first game in Pittsburgh as a Capital on March 20, Weber made quite a few enemies when he checked rookie Bryan Rust from behind and was given a game misconduct.
“I know I’ve had some impact there playing against them,” he said. “Maybe I get mixed reviews now about going back.”
Weber says his rugged style is a product of his upbringing.
“It’s a special area and it’s nice to be from such a hard-working town,” he said. “As I’ve gone along in my career I’ve always kept that chip on my shoulder and not forget where I came from. They’re working-class people and I try to bring that along with me.
“I always get jacked up to play the Pens. It’s always fun going back to Pittsburgh, but it’s more fun to beat them.”
As for his grandmother and the rest of his family, he expects blood to be thicker than their deep-rooted rooting interests.
“They have to support their family,” Weber said. “They can wear a Pens jersey if they want underneath, but it better be a Caps jacket on top. They better be supporting the family.”