He savoured every second of that first taste and, Brian Lee will tell you, he can’t wait for his next hearty sip of it all.
The Ottawa Senators defenceman still chuckles now about that March 25 night in Buffalo – hours before his 21st birthday – when he made his National Hockey League debut. It’s a night he won’t forget anytime soon.
“That’s where you want to be and I finally got called up,” said Lee, the Senators' first-round pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa, who started his first pro season with the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. “I was just ectastic. I was almost a little giddy, I was smiling all the time and just trying to take everything in.
“I watched some of the older guys like (Wade) Redden and (Chris) Phillips – their mannerisms, what they do on and off the ice – so I could try to become a professional like they are. It was great to be up there, it was a blast and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Lee played the final six games of the Senators’ 2007-08 regular season, then suited up for every game in their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. General manager Bryan Murray, also the team’s head coach at the time, made it very clear almost from the day Lee arrived that he was here to stay as an NHL player.
The playoff experience figures to help make that a reality.
“It really helped,” said Lee. “In the years past, I watched the games but you think ‘wow, that’s a high level of hockey, I wonder if I can play there?’
“But playing in the playoffs this year, kind of getting my feet wet, it was just a great experience and it makes me really want to come to Ottawa (in September for training camp), make the team, stay there for the year and then get back to the playoffs and hopefully make it last longer.”
That being said, Lee believes beginning last season in the AHL also provided an important step for his development.
“I started the year down in Binghamton and I really used that to work on things, work on shooting and skating and stuff down there after practice because we had all the ice we really wanted,” he said. “I had a really good defensive partner (Lawrence Nycholat), he’s kind of a veteran in the AHL. He’s a very smart player, a good player and he showed me the ropes a little bit and let me figure out some stuff on my own.
“It was just a great experience to be down there and start the year down there.”
After that taste he got last spring, though, Lee said there’s only one place he wants to spend the coming season.
“Definitely, that’s the goal for me,” Lee said of being a Senator from Day One in 2008-09. “(Last year’s experience) makes me think I have more of a chance to make the team out of camp and hopefully stay there all year.”
Improving his shot ranks at the top of his off-season goals back in Moorhead, Minn.
“(Senators management) told me to work on my shot, and you can always continue to work on your speed and strength and things like that, so I’ll work on it all,” said Lee. “But I’ll spend a lot of time working on my shot and working out this summer.”
He’s excited about the possibility of making the trip to Sweden for the Senators’ two season-opening games against the Penguins.
“It would be a blast, especially with guys like Daniel Alfredsson
,” Lee said in mentioning the Senators’ Swedish captain. “That’s his home and I’m sure a lot of people would come out to watch him and I’m sure it would be a great place to play.”