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'I would have liked to play more,' Canadiens captain Shea Weber says

If the Canadiens had made the playoffs, it would have been fun to see just how big captain Shea Weber’s beard would have become.

“If we had a couple of more months in the playoffs, we would have had something big,” a freshly shaven Weber said when he met with the media Tuesday in Brossard as the Canadiens players packed up their lockers.

This was Weber’s first season as captain of the Canadiens, replacing Max Pacioretty, and they missed the playoffs for the second straight season. Weber missed the first 24 games while recovering from foot and knee surgeries, but still led the team with an average of 23:29 of ice time and finished the season with 14-19-33 totals in 58 games, along with a plus-15. The 33-year-old’s ice time was reduced at times late in the season, but Weber said he wasn’t injured.

“I would have liked to play more,” Weber said. “I think everyone was playing well and just trying to manage minutes, I guess, to make sure to maintain health. Definitely nothing going on there (as far as an injury).”

Without having a training camp, Weber made his season debut on Nov. 27, logging 25:19 of ice time in a 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the Bell Centre.

“I felt pretty good, to be honest,” Weber said. “It’s tough to not go through training camp. Ask guys that have held out or been hurt, it’s not the same. Training camp’s huge, but I think given the circumstances it was all in all still pretty good.”

After the Canadiens finished 28th in the overall NHL standings last season, GM Marc Bergevin said the biggest problem was a bad attitude. Pacioretty was later traded to the Vegas Golden Knights and Weber was given the C, making him the undisputed leader in the locker room.

“I think right out of training camp we had the right attitude,” Weber said. “We had expectations of ourselves even though other people didn’t. I think that was the start we needed and, obviously, we got off to a great start and I think things kind of rolled from there. Guys realized how much fun we were having and how much more enjoyable it was to play doing things the right way and doing things for each other and winning hockey games most importantly.

“The guys in here are a great group,” Weber added about changing the culture from last season. “The only thing I think that was difficult was not being around for the first 20-something games all the time. You try to involve yourself as much as you can and try and get things going in the right direction. But the group in here and the core of the guys really did a good job in maintaining everything throughout the season.

“I learned a lot about this group. Especially with no expectations at the start of the year, I learned that this team was resilient. Back against the wall, they always came out and found a way to win and against all odds. I also found out that guys hate losing in here, which is good. You don’t want something like that to become comfortable or just automatic. Guys legitimately hated losing and it’s good to see that if affected the guys that much.”

Weber has been asked to play for Team Canada at next month’s IIHF Hockey World Championship but said he probably won’t go. Weber’s looking forward to being able to train this summer instead of recovering from surgeries and then having a full training camp before the start of next season. He has seven seasons remaining on his 14-year, US$110-million contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $7.857 million.

When asked what made him most proud about his performance this season, Weber smiled and said: “You know I don’t like talking about myself. I’m just proud of the guys. I think everybody played hard right till the end and especially the last few games here when there was virtually almost no chance (of making the playoffs). Guys were still playing and played right until the end.”

What was the captain’s message to his teammates before they headed out on Tuesday?

“You don’t know when we’re going to get a chance to be in the postseason again,” Weber said. “Obviously, this isn’t going to be the same group next year. There’s going to be changes and you got to work your tail off this summer and improve somehow and have an even better year than you did this year because this year wasn’t good enough, whatever you did this year. So we got to be even better next year.”

scowan@postmedia.com

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