By Dave Werstine
Long Beach Press Telegram
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Less than two weeks ago, goaltender Jeff Weber was wearing a Stockton Thunder jersey.
Tonight, he will have on an Ice Dogs jersey – and they’ll be playing against the visiting Thunder.
“It’s definitely going to be weird,” said Weber, who was traded to Long Beach for financial considerations on Oct. 17. “I was just with all those guys during training camp.”
The Thunder, who struggled in their inaugural season last year, are preseason contenders for the ECHL’s Kelly Cup. Much of that optimism is pinned to their affiliation with the Edmonton Oilers, who don’t have an AHL affiliate but working agreements with a few teams on that level – which means Stockton has a handful of very talented prospects on the roster.
One of those prospects is rookie goalie Devan Dubnyk, who had a stellar NHL camp and, according to some accounts, just missed making the Oilers.
Dubnyk’s assignment to Stockton was going to cost either Weber or Cam Ellsworth their job, so Weber took a proactive approach.
“He (Dubnyk) was going to play 50 to 60 games,” said Weber, figuring the No. 2 goalie was only going to get about 15 games. “I went in and asked politely if he (Stockton coach Chris Cichocki) could trade me. He said Long Beach was looking for a goalie.”
It wasn’t long after that Weber was pulling on an Ice Dogs jersey.
“He (Cichocki) was looking out for me as a person and a player,” Weber said. “It’s worked out so far.”
For both Weber and the Ice Dogs.
Weber was looking for a shot as a No. 1 goalie and the Ice Dogs were looking for a netminder with some experience. Weber, who was 4-21-6 with a 3.64 GAA and .899 save percentage last season on a team that won just 18 games, is getting his shot.
He started the first two games of the season. Despite a 2-1 loss to Idaho and a 5-4 setback against Bakersfield, Ice Dogs coach Rick Adduono is basically pleased with Weber.
“Last year was tough,” Weber said. “(Cichocki) told me that if I played hard good things would come. Hopefully, good things will happen here.”
However, Weber will have to split time here.
With Boston Bruins goalie prospect Mike Brown added just before the season opener, Adduono will be forced to get him plenty of action.
Brown’s debut could come as soon as tonight. However, Weber could be in the net for Saturday night’s rematch in Stockton.
And he is more than up to the challenge.
“I was talking to some of the (Thunder) guys and I told them that if are nice to me that I’d be nice to them,” he said, having fun with the matchup.
But the game will be serious, especially with the Ice Dogs looking to pick up their first win. It won’t be easy.
Weber has seen firsthand how good the Thunder (1-0) are this season, and he believes that Cichocki was right on when he called his team the best in the ECHL.
“Just by looking at their first game (a 6-1 win over Bakersfield),” he said, “it was no understatement.”