NHL Defenseman Getting Ice Time with Fargo Force
Thursday November 1, 2012
Nate Arentz and the rest of the Fargo Force have been skating alongside NHL defenseman and USHL alum Brian Lee during practice. (photo courtesy of the Fargo Force)
USHL alum preparing for season with team close to home
Normally at this time of year, Brian Lee would be skating on hockey’s biggest stage. But until labor negotiations are settled, the NHL defenseman was looking for a place to keep his game sharp.
The Moorhead, Minnesota native didn’t have to look too far to find some elite players as just across the Red River was the Fargo Force. Lee made a call to Force head coach John Marks to inquire about the opportunity to get some ice time and the USHL coach didn’t hesitate to welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman to practice with the team.
“I feel lucky to have a place to skate, stay in shape, and continue to get better while waiting to get back to work,” said Lee.
Being around a USHL team is nothing new for Lee as he played in the League during the 2004-05 season, skating 16 combined regular season and playoff games with the Lincoln Stars. Although brief, it was an important time for the defenseman as he was preparing for the NHL Draft and just a few weeks after his stint in the USHL concluded, he was selected in the first round (9th overall) by the Ottawa Senators.
“I came from high school hockey and coming to the USHL meant coming from playing against boys to playing against men,” said Lee. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to play in Lincoln and it helped me get ready for college.”
While appreciative of his time in Lincoln, the NHL defenseman admits he has become fond of the USHL that arrived across the river from his hometown four years ago.
“I am more of a Fargo Force fan now,” said Lee. “I have been to a couple games and I am really impressed with the players – how talented they are and how hard they work.”
Spending some time on the ice with the Force has reaffirmed his observations of the caliber of USHL players, a level that he says has increased since his time in the League.
“It seems like they have a lot more puck skills than when I played in the USHL,” said the defenseman. “They can do some things with the puck that are pretty impressive.”
Lee has taken advantage of his time with the Fargo Force to keep himself in shape for the NHL season and work on his game, benefits of the environment provided by taking the ice with these elite young players. He has been willing to answer any questions from the players, but admits he has left the coaching up to the quality staff of the Force. It hasn’t stopped the players from picking the brain of a NHL defenseman.
“He is really approachable and easy to talk to,” said second-year Force player Nate Arentz. “On the ice, we ask him what the better play may be in certain situations, plus ask him a lot about the NHL.”
It took the players by surprise at first when they saw a NHL player take the ice for practice with them, but are thrilled to have that quality of player pushing them each day.
“He makes us better players because he goes hard against us,” said Arentz. “We want to do our best to impress him and he definitely ‘high ends’ the pace of practice.”
The presence of Brian Lee has given the Force players a reminder of where they strive to be someday as they seek their dream of playing in the NHL. It wasn’t long ago that he was in their position before ascending the hockey ladder.
“It is crazy to think about in three years, four years, five years…you never know as anybody in our league could be putting on a NHL sweater,” said Arentz. “The caliber of talent in the USHL is so high and it really is an honor to know we could have players in the NHL pretty soon.”
Lee has seen plenty of his teammates and opponents over the years reach the NHL, including several that he played with during his time with the Lincoln Stars. Erik Condra (2004-05) was his teammate the last three seasons with the Ottawa Senators before Lee was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. They regularly catch up with each other, including this summer at Condra’s wedding. Chris Vande Velde (2004-06) is also a native of Moorhead and would be teammates with Lee throughout their young careers, including both the USHL and at the University of North Dakota. They continue to see each other throughout the summer and frequently train together.
Lee also chats with Jared Boll (2003-05) whenever their respective NHL teams collide, and will soon share USHL stories with his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates Ryan Malone (Omaha Lancers, 1998-99) and Teddy Purcell (Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, 2004-06) when the NHL season resumes.
The defenseman is anxious to get back to work, but has enjoyed a little down time and some extra opportunities to see friends and family. He has even been hunting a few times, something he doesn’t normally get a chance to do.
Soon enough Lee and his team will hunt down victories in the NHL and he is appreciative of the Force helping him get ready.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 11th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2012-13. With 18 NHL Draft picks on team rosters and over 200 players already committed to NCAA Division I schools this season, the USHL has emerged as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent. For more information, visit us on the web at www.USHL.com or visit the League’s social media platforms, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/ushlhockey), twitter (www.twitter.com/ushl), and YouTube (www.youtube.com/ushlinteractive). Fans can also watch USHL action all season long, live or on-demand via FASTHockey (ushl.fasthockey.com).
It’s not just hockey. It’s the USHL.