International Ice Hockey Federation

Canada's KHL weapon

Canada's KHL weapon

Magnitogorsk star Chris Lee makes Worlds debut

Published 12.05.2017 16:26 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Canada's KHL weapon
PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 11: Canada's Chris Lee #42 looks on during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
He didn’t expect to be here, but he’s making the most of his opportunity. That’s a recurring refrain for Chris Lee’s career. It held true in Paris on Thursday.

The veteran Metallurg Magnitogorsk defenceman got into the lineup for Canada’s 3-2 win over host France after Tyson Barrie had to withdraw from the tournament due to a freak leg injury reportedly from wrestling with a teammate. Lee, 36, performed admirably in his IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship debut. Although his interference penalty early in the second period led to France’s 2-1 power play marker, he atoned for his gaffe by setting up captain Claude Giroux’s tying goal with the man advantage with 49 seconds left in the period.

“I’ve known Chris Lee for about ten days,” said Team Canada coach Jon Cooper. “It’s been a good 10 days. I’ve really enjoyed him on our team. He’s savvy with the puck. He can calm things down. He’s really good for our power play. He’s just a consummate pro. He knows the subtle plays to make that are safe to help you contain your 3-2 game. He’s been a great addition for us.”

Against France, the four-year KHLer’s 20:36 of ice time was the third-highest on the team behind Jason Demers (22:56) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (22:35). It was remarkable considering his last game was a 4-1 exhibition win over Switzerland on 2 May in which he scored the opening goal. He only found out he would face France after practicing with the top six D-men on Wednesday and getting slotted into a power play unit. Paired with Calvin de Haan of the New York Islanders, Lee became the first KHL blueliner to suit up for Canada since Joel Kwiatkowski (Severstal Cherepovets) on the 2009 silver-medal team in Switzerland.

Clearly happy, Lee complimented the French on the challenge they gave the two-time defending World Champions: “What a tough game! They played fantastic, and the crowd was unbelievable. They had a lot of momentum and they made it tough for us.”

This season, Lee made it extremely tough on opposing KHL teams. Amazingly, he set new league records for the most points by a defenceman in both the regular season (65 points) and playoffs (1-20-21). To put his regular-season achievement in perspective, the 180-cm, 84-kg rearguard beat the previous record held by perennial producer Kevin Dallman (Barys Astana) by seven points. Dallman’s 2008-09 peak of 58 points, in turn, eclipsed IIHF Centennial All-Star Team member Vyacheslav Fetisov’s old Russian record of 49 points – set in the high-scoring 1980’s when Fetisov’s CSKA Moscow totally dominated domestic play.

Lee spoke modestly about his year since Metallurg wound up losing the Gagarin Cup final 4-1 to SKA St. Petersburg: “Overall, it would have been nice to finish it with a championship. It is what it is. But individually and personally, it was a pretty good year.”

The native of MacTier, Ontario got on Team Canada’s radar at the Deutschland Cup in Augsburg, Germany in November. Hockey Canada’s Scott Salmond, Sean Burke, and Dave King were on hand to evaluate talent as the Canadians finished second to Slovakia.

“I guess they liked the way I played in November,” said Lee. “They kept me in mind as the extra guy here, and things just happen to work out sometimes. Now I’m in the lineup and hopefully I can stay in there.”

It’s remarkable to think of where life has taken this intelligent puck-mover since he graduated from SUNY-Potsdam in 2004. Briefly, three seasons with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades led to 249 AHL games, followed by a flourishing European career that included one season (2010-11) in the 2017 World Championship host city of Cologne. Now Lee is a two-time Gagarin Cup champion with Metallurg. He became one of the first four Canadian players to capture the Russian title in 2014 and got the series-winning goal in 2016.

Will Lee continue to slot into Cooper’s lineup after the addition of hulking Colton Parayko from the St. Louis Blues? Time will tell.

“Hopefully I can continue to get better as we move toward the medal round,” said Lee with a gap-toothed grin. The opportunity to help Canada three-peat at the Worlds is just another wonderful chapter in his unlikely story.


Back to Overview