MONTREAL – On February 3, 2014, the Montreal Canadiens acquired forward Dale Weise from the Vancouver Canucks. It would be the 25 year-old Manitoban’s third NHL stop, but the six-foot-two right winger was already no stranger to his new teammate Ryan White.
“Whitey and I go way back. He was from Brandon, Manitoba, which was two hours outside Winnipeg,” revealed the Winnipeg-born Weise. “We started playing against each other when we were ten and all through minor hockey.”
A four hour round-trip several times a month is quite a drive for a Peewee game. But consider the following: while the province of Manitoba has fewer residents than the island of Montreal (1.2 million vs. 1.6 million), its population is spread out in an area more than 1000 times bigger. Weise and White were two of the best 1988-born players in the province and competed at the highest level of minor hockey available. Their families therefore spared no expenses in helping them make good on their athletic potentials, hence the frequent road trips.
After establishing their worth against the strongest minor hockey opposition in the Canadian prairies, Dale Weise and Ryan White were promoted to the WHL, the premier proving ground for aspiring NHLers in Western Canada. There, they continued to face off against one another on a regular basis.
“We played each other quite a bit in juniors, since he was in Calgary and I played for Swift Current,” added Weise. Indeed, Ryan White’s Calgary Hitmen eliminated Weise’s Swift Current Broncos in an epic playoff series in the spring of 2008. Though the Broncos’ leading playoff scorer was naturally disappointed to lose against White, his eternal rival and a 2007 Montreal Canadiens draft pick, Weise’s strong post-season showing moved him onto the radars of NHL scouts and emboldened the New York Rangers to select the 19 year-old in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Predictably, the two Manitobans continued to butt heads on the ice at the pro level. Weise’s career first took him to Connecticut, where his Hartford Wolfpack occasionally faced off against Ryan White’s Hamilton Bulldogs. By the time White became a regular player on the Habs, Weise was skating in a Canucks uniform after Vancouver had acquired him from the Rangers.
Six professional seasons later, the two rugged forwards, who more or less grew up with each other on the ice in the past fifteen winters, would finally wear the same uniform for the first time ever. As the newest member of the Montreal Canadiens, the affable Weise was overjoyed to be reunited with the similarly gregarious White. In fact, both men now sit in adjacent stalls in the Habs’ locker room.
What Dale Weise had not considered, however, was how truly remarkable and unlikely these turns of events had been.
The odds of a starry-eyed Canadian boy growing up to be a professional hockey player are not particularly attractive. Out of all the Manitoban boys born in the year 1988, approximated 1800 of them played organized hockey for at least one season in the province. By the start of the 2013-14 season, only six of them have played even a single game at the NHL level. Aside from Weise and White, the exclusive list includes the names of Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Jonathan Toews, Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer, Rangers defenseman Justin Falk, and Carson McMillan, a Minnesota Wild draftee currently playing in the AHL.
Not only do these six players all have the skill to move up through the ranks and break into the highest rung of the pro game, but they were fortunate enough to avoid serious injuries, loss of motivation or other obstacles which have derailed the careers of promising 1988’ers who never quite made it to The Show.
-Odds of getting a hole in one: 5,000 to 1
-Odds of winning an Academy Award: 11,500 to 1
-Odds of striking it rich on Antiques Roadshow: 60,000 to 1
-Odds of getting a royal flush in poker on first five cards dealt: 649,740 to 1
In these circumstances, a betting man would probably not risk his savings on the odds that two other boys would follow the same path as Weise and White, growing up playing every level of hockey together before becoming teammates in the NHL. In fact, the chances of something like this happening again are roughly one to three million. Said betting man is four times more likely to flop a royal flush on the first five cards dealt in a poker game.
“Wow, that’s wild. That is crazy,” exclaimed Dale Weise, who assisted on a Ryan White goal in his first game as a Hab. Knowing that tidbit will no doubt make his next scoring play feel all the sweeter.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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