Kevin Weekes has seen a thing or two in his 30-plus years of being around hockey.
He also knows a thing or two.
The now-retired 11-year NHL goaltender and current NHL Network analyst joins the latest session of New England Hockey Journal’s The Rink Shrinks podcast to share some of that knowledge with co-hosts Brian Yandle and Mike Mottau, discussing his Toronto roots, finding his passion for the game and plenty of other conversations related to his hockey career.
St. Louis Blues winger and Stanley Cup champion Zach Sanford (Salem, Mass.) also joins the podcast to discuss his youth hockey playing days, making it to the NHL after a stint at Pinkerton Academy and capturing the Cup against the Bruins in 2019.
Weekes’ hockey journey was far from typical. “What was really cool, for me, is the way everything kind of converged,” he told the Rink Shrinks.
Weekes’ parents, who are originally from Barbados, an eastern island in the Caribbean, emigrated to Canada as teenagers, well before they had any kids.
First it was his mother, who, at the age of 16, joined Weekes’ aunt and uncle and picked up her life to move to Windsor, Ontario, on the banks of the Detroit River.
After some time, the trio moved up to Toronto, before Weekes’ mother returned to Barbados to marry his father. Once they were married, they went back to Toronto. Soon after, they had kids.
“She kind of tricked him into coming to Canada, saying, ‘Yeah, you’ll just come for a vacation or whatever,’ ” Weekes told the Shrinks. “She got all of his immigration stuff done. She kind of hoodwinked him in that sense, although they were married, because he didn’t want to leave (Barbados). And he kind of had it up in his mind to commute or whatever, but my mom’s a little bit harder core, she’s like, ‘No, no, no.’
“Once he got there, she’s like, ‘No, we’ve got the apartment set up, we’ve got your immigration set up, it’s time to get a job. This is home now.’ And fortunately, she had the foresight and guts to do that, because it kind of lent itself to them having me, and eventually my sister eight years later, to being born into a hockey hotbed.”
Living in a predominantly Italian neighborhood in downtown Toronto, there were all types of backgrounds around Weekes’ growing up. With varying backgrounds come varying sports, so he played all sorts of games that weren’t hockey as a kid.
“We had every background,” Weekes said.
“For a lot of us, our parents had just emigrated to Canada, so even for the British, Irish and Scottish kids, their parents were used to soccer in the UK. The Italian kids, same thing, Greek kids, same thing, Portuguese kids, same thing. For us, it was more cricket or soccer. Hockey was a way that kind of brought us together.”
Eventually, the pucks came a-calling.
The goaltender who typically played with Weekes’ older cousin and his friends around the neighborhood was from Greece, and he had just decided to go back.
So, they needed a goalie.
“I was just hanging around, I was a ball chaser, like 5 or 6 years old. … So, my cousin and his friends are like, ‘Hey, if you want to play you have to go in net’ and I’m like, ‘Perfect, that’s where I wanted to be’ and it just kind of took off from there.”
Once he had a taste, there was no going back, even if it was a rag-tag version of the sport he would go on to play professionally later in life.
“Canadian Tire used to sell the street hockey pads, the old Coopers and stuff, but hardly anybody had them, at least on our circuit, anyways,” Weekes said. “(So), we would go to the dumpster behind the building when people threw out couches, and we would unzip the cushion, and then we would draw the vertical and horizontal lines on the front of the pads at the time with a black magic marker, and then we put strings through them like laces, like shoelaces, and those would be our straps.
“That’s literally how we started. Even at the park, at Oakcrest Park back home, they used to flood a part of the park by the tennis court cages, and that was our outdoor rink. That was the original ODR. … And in saying that, before we had skates we were out there. We were out there in old-school winter boots, man.”
Just like that, it was all hockey, all the time.
“We could never get enough of the game,” he said. “Oh my god, we loved it.”
With a love for the game instilled early on, Weekes set out on his youth hockey career, before moving on to play a trio of years in the Ontario Hockey League.
In his second year in the OHL, playing for the Owen Sound Platers, he was taken 41st overall by the Florida Panthers in the second round of the 1993 NHL draft.
He jumped up to the AHL two years later, where he spent a pair of seasons, and eventually made his NHL debut with the Panthers during the 1997-98 campaign.
He went on to play 348 regular-season NHL games with six different clubs. In 2002, he helped lead the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Final.
For more from Weekes on his winding journey to the NHL, as well as many other interviews with The Rink Shrinks featuring co-hosts Brian Yandle and Mike Mottau, find the podcast through a variety of streaming platforms, such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, or online at hockeyjournal.com/podcast.