How do you score 40 goals in one NHL season?
“A lot of hard work, good chemistry with your linemates, and a little bit of puck luck,” said New York Islanders forward Anders Lee, who in his sixth season in the league registered a career-best 40 goals and 62 points. “It’s nice when the work you’re putting in starts paying off.”
A three-time member of the U.S. Men’s National Team, the 27-year-old native of Edina, Minnesota, native shares four development tips for youth hockey players.
1. Be an athlete, not just a hockey player.
Lee excelled at quarterback as a youth. He suited up for varsity football and varsity hockey at Edina High School all the way up through his senior year, and pitched with the varsity baseball team until his junior year.
“I couldn’t see myself giving (football) up for hockey,” said Lee, who entertained a few NCAA Division I football offers before choosing Notre Dame hockey. “You want to play your senior year of football, especially at quarterback. It was a fun position where I got to touch the ball every play and I wasn’t going to give that up too easily.
“Looking back, I wish I had just played baseball my senior year,” he added. “The commitment level at the time, I really felt that I had to get ready for hockey – my focus was on that – but if I could change it, I would have played because I love baseball.”
At quarterback, Lee learned how to read and react to plays, body positioning and athletic stances, along with overall conditioning and muscle movement that can translate across the sports spectrum.
“I know that (playing multiple sports) is something that’s tough to do, but it’s something I think is extremely valuable,” he said. “If you can and you want to play multiple sports all the way through high school, I think it’s a great thing.”
2. Trust the process and embrace failures.
“I never made select teams or anything like that in hockey,” Lee recalled. “I was kind of a late bloomer in hockey actually. I never made the final Select 51 team. I wasn’t drafted my first year of eligibility, and I wasn’t a first-rounder anyway.
“I’m not saying I had that hard of a route, because I didn’t. I still made teams. I was doing just fine, but there were definitely some setbacks.”
Lee said building confidence was key in dealing with those setbacks.
“You’re going to have that physical work ethic, where you put in the time off the ice or on the ice or in the weight room or stuff like that, but I think the hardest part was being able to find confidence and keep an open outlook,” he said. “When you’re not getting recruited as a kid and you see all your friends getting recruited or making teams and you’re not, it’s hard. But it’s one of those things where you have to trust the process and continue to work and stay positive. Things will fall into place. Know where you stand as a player. Trust yourself.”
3. Taking a break, but looking ahead
Lee urges kids to take a break from the game every offseason. When you’re ready to jump back in, reflect on the previous season and map out your goals for the new year.
“I think it’s extremely important just for your mental game and mental health to reflect on the season prior and plan out in your head what your goals are for next season and all of that stuff, but you need that break just to step away from the game,” Lee said. “When you get back, you realize how much you missed it and how much you love it. If you get right back into it again, it turns in to a job. It turns into something you’re just doing to do.
“You want to keep the love for the game. You don’t want to overdo it.”
4. Offseason development
Most kids still undoubtedly get the urge to pick up a stick during the offseason. Lee made sure to mix in a little off-ice training, shooting hundreds of pucks in his driveway to work on his shot. He’d work on stickhandling, footwork and fun tricks.
“That was kind of my thing that I would always do because I didn’t need my parents to drive me to a rink or I didn’t need ice time or a team to go play with,” Lee said. “It was just something I could do on my own – go grab the bucket and shoot some pucks, get my hands going and that kind of stuff. I wish I threw the rollerblades on to improve my skating, but I never did that – our driveway was slanted so that wouldn’t have worked.
“I had an empty net and I would hang Coke cans and try to hit the corners or post, but I had to be careful. Mom and dad loved me shooting pucks but they don’t love their house getting banged up.”
Ultimately, according to Lee, it boils down to developing at your pace, have fun and learn about responsibility and accountability.
“At the end of the day, you’re the one who is going to make or break yourself,” Lee said. “You can’t constantly be comparing yourself to others when it’s not up to them where you go with this game. It’s only up to you.”