Ron Rolston is a passionate believer that leaders emerge through actions, not words, roles or perceived pecking order.
“The first thing if you’re going to be a leader, you have to be capable and consistent every single night,” the Buffalo Sabres’ coach said. “Until you do that, you can’t be a leader. To me, you can’t play one game good, one game bad, one period good, one period bad.
“That’s like Level One. That’s like the basement of leadership. You’ve got to show up every day. You’ve got to be capable. You’ve got to be consistent. Then you build a base where guys are looking to you and you’re setting an example.
“We still have guys that have to get there to be leaders.”
The Sabres, who were defined by inconsistency, had a leadership void this season. However, a few players of influence emerged thanks to steady performances. Defenseman Mike Weber was one of them.
“Mike Weber is one of those players that made a real big jump this year in terms of what he meant to our hockey team, how he plays the game, just the potential that he has to continue to grow on this team,” Rolston said. “It put a player like Mike in more of a leadership role because of what he did and because of the minutes that he had. He was in the lineup every night blocking shots, sacrificing for his teammates.
“He’s put himself in a situation where he can be one of those guys that are in the room and holding guys accountable.”
The 25-year-old Weber wants Sabreland to become a place where accountability and determination are everyday occurrences.
“Everyone personally and as a team, we need to go in a different direction here and change the culture here,” Weber said. “Guys need to be held accountable. I think a lot of that’s been lost over the last couple of years.
“We’ve got to find a way as a team to boost each other up and power through some struggles. That’s been our biggest downfall. We get lost in these ruts. I’ve said it before, like quicksand. We get lost in this quicksand and it sucks us in. We don’t have enough fight to fight out of it. I think that’s the culture that I’m speaking of. We need to find that battle, that intensity to get ourselves out of it.”
Weber, who started the season as a healthy scratch, fought his way into the lineup. He played 42 of the 48 games and was voted “Unsung Hero” by his teammates.
“It’s a huge honor,” he said. “Obviously, something that’s voted by your peers is pretty special. I just try to show up and be consistent and battle for them every night. As an individual, I’m a terrible player. As a team, everyone on this team makes me better and makes me look a lot better than I am.”
While Weber likely will never shine offensively (he had a goal and six assists), he’s far from terrible. His 92 blocked shots, ranked 24th in the NHL. He was second on the Sabres in hits (122) and was one of only nine regulars to finish with a positive plus/minus rating at plus-3.
“Finally, my maturity is there,” said the sixth-year pro. “It might have a taken a little bit longer, but finally just learning to be consistently solid. I’ve always been confident in myself, but it’s finally just getting the trust from the coaching staff and obviously from my peers that I can go and do a job and do it on a consistent basis and just stick with it.
“The maturity thing is just letting stuff come to me, not getting too anxious and trying to go and make the big hit, just letting stuff come to me and just taking care of my own zone. That’s just what I could take from this year and moving forward try to use that maturity to help lead the way here in the future.”
Weber became a veteran on the back end after the Sabres traded Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr. He hopes to help train youngsters such as Mark Pysyk, Chad Ruhwedel and Brayden McNabb.
“I want to be a big part of this organization for years to come,” Weber said. “I know we’re a lot closer than it looks. There’s a lot of great, young players that are up here. We’ve got great veteran guys, and we’re going to be looking to improve in the offseason to make ourselves better. I just want to do my part in leading the ways that I can.”