January 12, 2018

Unknown Canadians: Chris Lee

One of the more interesting and anonymous names on Team Canada's 2018 Olympic team is Chris Lee.

The Georgian Bay, Ontario native is a 37 year old defenseman playing with Magnitogorsk Metallurg. He is one of the top offensive defensemen in the KHL.

“He’s a great skater. He’s a real power-play specialist. I don’t say that in a negative way because sometimes that can conjure up an image of a guy who can’t play in his own end,” Sean Burke, Canada's Olympic general manager, told Sportsnet.

“Chris has found his game later. He never had an NHL career. He came over to Europe and came into his own. He’s smart and he can handle the puck. On the big ice, when you’ve got those skills and you’ve got the head for the game, it’s a nice combination.”

Lee - whose mother was related to Bobby Orr through marriage - was seemingly never on the NHL's radar. The six foot, 185 pound defenseman is a late bloomer to say the least. He played college hockey at SUNY-Potsdam for three years, a New York State College Division 3 team. He then bounced around the minor leagues for a few seasons before disappearing to Europe in 2010.

“I got called up with Pittsburgh," said Lee of his closest chance at the NHL. "Took warm-up in Ottawa, for a game, and was set to play, but they told me after warm-up that I was out, I wasn’t playing. I got a day in the NHL, but not a game to show for it, which is unfortunate."

“After that I went to Europe, played two years in Germany. From there I went to the Swedish (Hockey) League, played one year there on a two-year contract and after my year I was purchased by a Russian team in the KHL. It was a long journey and unconventional, being undrafted and coming out of division three…but I’m here and still doing it and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Lee really found his groove in Magnitogorsk where he has set KHL scoring records for defensemen. He was finally rewarded by being named to Canada's silver medal world championship team in 2017.

Lee, like the usual European league fill-ins for Canada at the World Championships, wasn't expected to take to the ice once the full compliment of non-playoff bound NHL talent arrived. But Lee did continue playing, if only due to an injury to Tyson Barrie.

That finally put Lee on the NHL's radar. He entertained some interest from NHL teams last summer, but wisely held out for a one-way contract that never materialized. He has a good thing going in Russia, where the money is better than the American league. He also knew that in a non-NHL Olympics he was a strong candidate to play in Korea.

With another strong season, the NHL two-way offer could still be waiting for 2018-19. Why come back to toil in the minor leagues without the guarantee of a one way contract and lose a chance to play at the Olympics? Maybe next season he takes that chance to see if he could play in the NHL.

But that's the furthest thing from his mind right now as he and his Team Canada teammates aim to bring Canada a third consecutive Olympic gold medal in men's hockey.

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