- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

MONTREAL One skate on and one off, Kevin Weekes sat at his stall at Molson Centre yesterday after practice and took one last question from the media for at least the 15th time. If there were an Olympic category for marathon responses by an athlete, Weekes would be golden.
He is the newest Carolina Hurricane and suddenly one of the most important. He is the backstop for a team in the second round of the playoffs that is averaging 1.4 goals a game, which is pretty close to not showing up. Weekes has a 3-2 record in his first stab at playoff hockey, not especially eye-opening until the rest of his stats are included: a goals-against average of 1.39 and a saves percentage of .947.
And he doesn't know if he'll start tonight's Game 4 against Montreal, which leads the series 2-1, or whether veteran Arturs Irbe, with the stats of just your normal better-than-average goalie (2.39, .919), will get the nod.
They may be the oddest couple in this tournament. Irbe is a product of the Soviet elite league, where he played for Dynamo Riga in his native Latvia. Weekes came from the working class Toronto suburb of Scarborough, was schooled in the Ontario Hockey League and has survived the minors and four NHL trades.
"We definitely have a good feeling about one another and our team, a genuine sense of pride and " the goalie replied to one query, the kind of standard puff that makes up most interviews. Only Weekes makes it sound believable, using perfect diction with a slight hint of a British accent, tones rising and falling. Close your eyes and it could be the noon news on the BBC.
He is one of the feel-good stories coming out of this spring's NHL playoffs. He is a goalie who decided on his vocation at a very early age and has worked hard to get there, changing addresses like underwear. He joined the Hurricanes at the trading deadline in March, his fourth NHL move an indication that he is a desirable commodity, not one being dumped.
But there might be some who suspect something is wrong with all the moves because Weekes is one of about a dozen black players in the league. That's not the case, not in a league that is nearing parity and where every athlete who can play the game is valued.
"The teams he had been playing for were non-playoff teams," said Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford, a former goalie. "Sometimes when a guy gets moved around you think maybe something's wrong, but not in this case. Circumstances dictated his moves. He was an asset; that's why he was traded."
He was an asset but with the very bad luck of always having somebody in front of him, such as Nikolai Khabibulin in Tampa Bay, Weekes' previous stop. Weekes was starting to relive the early life of Washington's Olie Kolzig, a career backup and not by design, a guy one break away from making it.
"Funny you should mention him," Weekes said. "I remember when Olie played his first game against Toronto (1989). I watched him and remember thinking he was awesome. He's been with one team his whole career, but that team produced Byron Dafoe [Boston], Olie, Jim Carey [retired] and had a lot of guys like Bill Ranford and Pete Peeters go through there."
Kolzig got his break when Ranford was injured. Weekes, who had never been in an NHL playoff game before, got his break when New Jersey started to shell Irbe 10 days ago and the backup was pressed into service. He earned victories in the final two games to carry his team past the Devils in six.
"It's something I've been waiting for for a very long time, something I worked very hard to achieve but something I'm very appreciative of because for some guys, the break never comes," Weekes said.
Weekes, 27, grew up in the same neighborhood as another former Cap, Anson Carter, now in Edmonton. The players are close friends, the sons of immigrants from Barbados who are also very close. Each set of parents instilled a deep sense of pride in their children, the pride that was ingrained in them.
"That and a work ethic," said Weekes. "People talk about playing in the NHL but we watched our parents come from a small island, come to [Canada] and start from ground level. That's a work ethic, doing that and providing for a family, putting up with the different mentality in North America kids who want to run around with $100 sneakers. They provided for us as athletes, too. Goalie pads cost $1,500, and if I wanted to go to a tournament in the United States, that was another $1,000. That meant they worked overtime. We learned what hard work was all about from watching our parents."
Weekes' favorite athlete has always been Michael Jordan; his favorite goalie has always been Grant Fuhr, who gained fame in Edmonton's glory days.
"Fuhr was always fun to watch, always very humble, never bragged, supported his teammates and was accountable for his own game," Weekes said. "He just wanted to be a part of his team, go out and play hard, make saves."
Which sort of describes Weekes, who reverts to goalie-speak cliches about his teammates doing this or that. But he knows full well that when the action starts, the only colors that matter are on the jerseys, not the skin.
"I'm a goalie," he said with finality. "I may be just a little more athletic than the majority of the guys, but to me I'm a goalie. I'm a black man, but I'm a goalie. To a lot of people, I'm a black goalie, and that's pretty unfortunate because when you watched practice, all you saw was red jerseys. You looked at those guys the Finns, the Americans, the Czechs, the Canadians as Carolina Hurricanes, and that's what's most important.
"[Race] was never an issue when we were growing up. We're just here to play the game we always aspired to play at its highest level, become as good as we can be and have a positive impact on our team. A lot of people can't accept that. It's the same with Tiger Woods [a lot of] people don't want him to win, [dont] want him to succeed. All we're trying to do is follow our dreams, be the people our parents raised us to be."


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