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Hockey: Lee embraces captaincy, move to center

By Sam Gans | Wednesday, November 7, 2012

During the offseason, Irish junior captain and center Anders Lee had a decision to make. He could either sign a contract with the New York Islanders and move one step closer to the National Hockey League or return to school to work toward a degree in management and try to make another Frozen Four after the Irish missed out on the NCAA Tournament his sophomore season.

He chose the latter.

“I’m committed to this hockey team and this school and I value my degree really highly. We had unfinished business here as a hockey team and I hadn’t earned my degree yet either, so I think it’s just a combination of those two,” Lee said. “And having such a good group of friends on the team and in my dorm and around school, I just wasn’t ready to leave that behind, especially knowing how special the team we had coming back this year [is] and the opportunity for me to graduate.”

So far this season, the No. 7 Irish (6-2-0, 3-1-0-0 CCHA) have been the beneficiaries of that choice.

Lee, a 2009 sixth-round pick by the Islanders, leads Notre Dame with nine points through eight games. This past weekend, he notched three goals and an assist in a two-game home split against Western Michigan to earn CCHA Postgame Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Lee’s strong start is in the midst of an adjustment from left wing to center. During his first two years at Notre Dame, Lee played primarily alongside junior center T.J. Tynan, with Tynan leading the Irish in points each of the last two years while Lee led the team in goals.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson, however, decided to move Lee to center this offseason, effectively splitting up the pair during five-on-five play. Jackson said Lee’s playing style has made it difficult to find wingers to serve as Lee’s linemates, but believes junior forwards Bryan Rust and Jeff Costello could be the answer.

“[In] most cases, centers are more like T.J. Tynan or [freshman] Steven Fogarty,” Jackson said. “They’re a little bit more of playmaker type of players. Anders is probably more of a goal-scorer. And to have a center that’s more of a goal-scorer, you need to have wingers for him that are going to help get him the puck in the right areas of the ice. I thought Bryan Rust did a nice job, Costello’s starting to come in and get his game legs back and he’s a very smart player with the puck and physical, and I think both those two guys helped Anders together last game.”

Lee’s size also affected his offseason approach during the position change. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Lee worked to improve his mobility on the ice to take on the challenges of playing center.

“[I've been] trying to work on skating and working on getting up and down the ice faster and my footwork,” Lee said. “Being ready to go end-to-end with backchecking and skating. That’s been real important. At center, you’re all over the ice, so you’ve got to be ready to skate around and that’s why T.J. does so well because he can fly around the ice.”

After Lee was an alternate captain a year ago, Jackson named the junior the sole Notre Dame captain this season. Jackson said he has been impressed this season with the leadership ability of Lee, just one member of Notre Dame’s leadership group.

“I decided to name only one captain this year, but we do have a leadership group of eight guys, and he’s one of them, of course,” Jackson said. “The four seniors and three other juniors, we are meeting every couple of weeks. We talk as a group. I expect everybody, especially the upperclassmen, to take a leadership role.

“Anders is a mature young guy and he understands what I’m all about. I think I understand what he’s all about. Good communication skills. He’s got the character and I think he’s doing a great job right now.”

Lee said having a squad full of upperclassmen leaders has made his job as captain easier.

“[I] just try to be a vocal leader and lead by example on the ice,” he said. “We have so much leadership on this team, it’s not just me within the locker room talking. Everyone’s talking, everyone has that positive attitude. We work together as a unit and we’ve got great senior leadership. [The] upperclassmen [and] junior class, they’ve made the job really easy on me. It hasn’t been tough at all yet and I’m enjoying it, and as long as the team’s winning, that’s all that matters.”

Lee and the rest of the Irish are next in action Friday night when they travel to Chestnut Hill, Mass., for a matchup against No. 1 Boston College at 7 p.m.

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu