When 11-year-old Max Weaver is in the arena's stands, there’s no debate over who owns the title of No. 1 fan. Whether he’s coaching from the stands or waiting off-ice to give high-fives, everyone who knows Max says he brings an infectious enthusiasm to the rink.
Max’s older brother, Sam Weaver, says he can hear Max’s shouts of “Go! Go!” and “Get them!” all the way on the ice.
“It gives me confidence,” says Sam.
Since Sam started playing hockey about seven years ago, Max has attended games with the rest of the Weaver family. His outgoing attitude and love for the game have led Max to grow close with Sam’s teammates.
“They really enjoy Max being a part of the team,” says Sam.
Friend and teammate Preston Tryon says even on days when he’s not excited to travel to far away road games, knowing Max will be at the rink makes it a little bit better.
“He’s so funny, he even goes up to strangers and gives them high-fives,” says Preston. “It’s pretty cool that we have a No. 1 fan.”
“We joke that we could drop Max off at Rotary Place and he would be well cared for, supported, find people to watch hockey with (and) end up in a changeroom 'coaching' the players before a game,” says Max’s mom, Amanda Weaver.
Amanda says Max has met each and every situation in his young life with the same happy energy he brings to the hockey rink.
Just before his first birthday, Max was diagnosed with a rare genetic abnormality that affects less than one per cent of the population. Upon diagnosis, doctors told the Weavers the condition had no name — they couldn’t find the same kind of chromosomal abnormality in their database.
Amanda and her husband, Scott, did research and spoke to their doctors about the results of the genetic test, but given how rare it is, didn't find much more information.
“We just kind of came to the understanding that Max is who he is and he’s unique and he’s going to do what he’s going to do on his own time and in his own way,” says Amanda.
Max’s joy helped put the family’s nerves at ease, too, Amanda adds. Despite countless hospital visits, lots of poking and prodding and one surgery, Max remained his upbeat self.
“It wasn’t fun and he had tears, but he literally would be being given oxygen for not being able to breathe, and he’s smiling and laughing at the nurses and doctors giving it to him,” says Amanda.
Though Max didn’t start cheering until he was about seven as he hit milestones later than most children, Amanda says hockey has always captured his attention. Unlike other player’s siblings who run around the arena and play games amongst themselves, Max would sit with the parents and watch each game intently.
Zambonis and referees became two particular interests for Max. Max says he likes referees because they call penalties, and Zambonis because “they clean so Sammy can go on the ice.”
The superfan’s passion for all-things hockey means Max has no problem cheering for the opposing team, and often shouts encouragement at the referees.
Referee Terry Smith says Max frequently dons a striped ref jersey to games, which—paired with his cheering—make him stand out. “To see someone cheering on the referees, it’s uplifting,” Smith adds.
Max has a sharp memory and great recall according to Amanda, and knows almost every referee call off by heart. Refs frequently give Max game pucks or playbooks and quiz him on his calls. Amanda adds they’re often surprised that the more technical calls can’t stump him.
Since meeting Max, Smith has set up a number of opportunities for him. He helped arrange for Max to drop the puck at a ceremonial NHL alumni versus law enforcement hockey game on his ninth birthday, and put together a video with another referee for Max’s 11th birthday just last month.
Smith adds Max’s joy “puts everything into perspective,” giving him a talent for squashing hard feelings that arise during tense, competitive games.
“A few years ago, when I was coaching, if I became animated (Max) made sure after the game that I knew what the right call was,” says Andy Long, the manager of Sam’s team. “He definitely brings the best out in a lot of people and reminds you what’s important in life.”
Despite the fact that Long is not coaching this year, he’s still 'Coach Andy' to Max, and is always greeted with a smile and a hug. The last time the pair saw each other, Max showed off his Terriers jacket with 'Coach Max' written down the sleeve, excited that Long was wearing his matching one.
In return for Max’s support, Amanda says the hockey community has embraced him right back. When a sledge hockey drop-in Max was signed up to play in was going to be cancelled due to lack of interest, his brother and a number of Sam’s teammates joined to make sure Max got the chance to play.
“When kids are eight years old, sometimes they can be lost in themselves. But they always brought Max into the game, made sure Max was included with the older boys,” says Long, whose son was one of those who joined sledge hockey.
Amanda says even outside of Orillia, Max has charmed his way into the hearts of rink-goers. At the last International Silver Stick Tournament in 2020, Max’s ref jersey drew in one of the tournament’s referee conveners.
“He just (made) it his mission the whole week to shower Max with opportunities,” says Amanda. She says Max got VIP treatment, even getting to hold the Silver Stick.
A few weeks after the tournament, the referee convener called Amanda out of the blue to ask how Max was doing, particularly given COVID-19 shutdowns which had just begun. Prior to the 2022 Silver Stick tournament, which was ultimately cancelled for Canadian teams due to lockdowns, he called again to ensure Max would be coming to the tournament.
“It just could’ve been one of those wonderful, magical moments and we move on and not hear from Tim again, but he’s wanting to keep this relationship going and keep tabs on what Max is doing and it’s amazing,” says Amanda.
“That’s what the hockey community is about, and that’s Max’s impact.”
Max has big plays for hockey: “I wanna be a coach one day,” he says. He adds he might be a goalie or a ref, too. “Or all of the above,” says Amanda.
But for now, his goal is simple: he’s headed to his backyard rink “to shoot on Sammy.”