Notre Dame junior forward Anders Lee has taken college hockey by storm. The 152nd overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft could prove to be a steal for the Islanders, who selected Lee prior to his first collegiate season.
As a freshman at Notre Dame in 2010-11, Lee finished second on the Fighting Irish in scoring with 44 points in 44 games and led that team to the NCAA Frozen Four. Although his production subsided to 34 points in 40 games during his sophomore year, Lee is back on his point-per-game pace this season with nine points through his club’s first nine games.
Named captain prior to the start of this season, Lee has led Notre Dame to a conference-best 6-2-0 start in 2012-13.
“I’m very blessed to have that opportunity down the road, but right now, I’m just trying to focus on the team at Notre Dame,” Lee said in regards to a possible NHL future. “I’m committed to my boys and just trying to help lead the team as captain.”
Naming a college junior captain is rare in NCAA hockey. Head Coach Jeff Jackson said the respect that Anders commands, both on the ice and off, made it clear the 22-year-old deserved the “C” in South Bend.
“He’s a very mature young guy and he leads by example in his training and academics,” Jackson said. “I think the guys have great respect for him and they still like him as a person. When you have all those key ingredients, it’s an easy decision to make someone like that captain because of his character.”
The players vote on whom they think should be the captain, but it is ultimately Jackson who has the final say. This year’s Notre Dame squad includes 16 upperclassmen, split between four seniors and 12 juniors. Having such a veteran squad makes Lee’s appointment even more impressive.
“It’s an honor,” Lee said. “It’s real nice knowing that I have the support of my teammates and the coaching staff in the locker room.”
Still early in the 2012-13 season, Notre Dame is currently ranked seventh in the country by United States College Hockey Online.
A native of Edina, Minnesota, a town just outside of Minneapolis, Lee decided that staying in state to play for the University of Minnesota wasn’t for him. Even though many young hockey players from the North Star State dream of playing for the Golden Gophers, Lee chose instead to head to South Bend.
“I think once I had a chance to get to Notre Dame and visit the place, there’s no way I was turning it down,” Lee said. “Knowing just where the program was heading and that I could be a part of it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I love it at ‘ND.’”
Jackson, an assistant coach with the Islanders in 2003-04, believes Lee’s time at Notre Dame has helped him develop both physically and mentally into someone who has a good chance to play in the NHL soon.
“I think that he’s certainly got a man’s body,” Jackson said of the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Lee. “He’s a smart kid. He knows what’s important to him. That’s why he’s still playing college hockey and working towards his degree. He’s certainly going to have a chance to play in the National Hockey League.”
Jackson also acknowledged the possibility that this could be Lee’s final season of college hockey.
“Those things happen,” Jackson said. “My belief is – I’ve had great players in the past – when the college game becomes easy for them, it’s time to move on.”
This could be the year Lee proves the college game has become too easy. Now in his junior year at Notre Dame, Lee’s time in college has been invaluable as he furthers his hockey career.
“Continue progressing and working hard,” Lee said in regards to his goals at Notre Dame. “At the same time, having a good time winning and enjoying the journey we’re on as a team and try to win some huge games for this program.”
Notre Dame has never won a national title in hockey. Lee’s skills and leadership could be the sparkplug for a team that has its sights on a championship come April.