By Alan Avital
After amassing over 3,000 yards through the air and on the ground and totaling 37 touchdowns his senior year at Edina (MN) High School, Anders Lee briefly flirted with playing football on the collegiate level. Yet, despite receiving scholarship offers from North Dakota State, Harvard and the University of Minnesota, Lee was able to yield to temptation and secure an offer that he could not turn down – a hockey scholarship from the University of Notre Dame.
“I had always played football in the fall, but I couldn’t see myself giving up on hockey,” said the 6-foot-3, 227-pound Lee, who followed a stellar high school hockey career at St. Thomas Academy and Edina where he accumulated 238 points (106 goals and 132 assists) – second all-time for a Metro player in Minnesota history – by winning a United States Hockey League championship in Green Bay for the Gamblers in 2009-10, scoring a league-high 35 goals. “Hockey was always a year-round sport for me.”
That scoring dexterity made former Islanders assistant general manager and scouting director Ryan Jankowski take notice, as he took a sixth round flyer (152nd overall) on the power winger in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Jankowski’s hunch was certainly verified to be a shrewd one last fall in South Bend, as the freshman Lee led the upstart Fighting Irish with 24 goals, including an overtime-winner against Merrimack in the opening round of the 2011 NCAA championship tournament. Notre Dame would upset New Hampshire in the following round, before bowing out to Minnesota-Duluth in the Frozen Four.
“Ryan did a great job scouting Anders,” said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. “The reason why he fell into the sixth round was because of his skating. But he definitely saw the potential.”
Coincidentally, Jackson served as Steve Stirling’s assistant coach on Long Island for three seasons (2003-2005), before leading the program at Notre Dame. He continues to keep a keen eye on what’s going on in Uniondale.
“Both (general manager) Garth Snow and (scout) Eric Cairns played for me when I was on Long Island,” said Jackson. “I still root for them (the Islanders). It also isn’t a coincidence that the relationship is very strong between Anders and the Islander organization.”
Lee, who patterns his game after six-foot-four San Jose Shark Joe Thornton, gave Islander fans a glimpse of his future potential this past July by netting two goals in the team’s Blue-White Scrimmage at Nassau Coliseum.
“I really enjoyed playing in front of the Islander fans,” said Lee. “They have given me great support, and I wanted to show them how I am not afraid to go into the corners to get the puck.”
But while Lee’s eventual goal is to play a top-six wing for the Islanders in the next couple of years, he still has unfinished business at Notre Dame.
“I am very happy to be here at Notre Dame,” said the 21-year-old Lee, who has begun his sophomore season by scoring five goals in the team’s first four games. “I know that the next step is to play in the NHL, but this is a special place to be at right now. I am getting a great education and we want to win a National Championship.”
Lee was designated as one of the team’s alternate captains prior to the season by Jackson, an honor that the sixth-year head coach believes is well deserved.
“Anders is one outstanding young man,” said Jackson. “He has a tremendous work ethic. He approaches practice with full intensity, and he is well liked by all of his teammates. He is simply a leader.”
Alan will be contributing weekly.
By Alan Avital