Old Mike Lee Article

(The following article was written by me for the December 18th, 2007 edition of Paul Shaheen's Research on Ice magazine.)

The Minnesota High School hockey season got started up recently, and Roseau goalie Mike Lee committed to play hockey for St. Cloud State this past weekend. Most people know him as the goalie who, last season as a sophomore, backstopped the Rams to a Class AA state title, and had an undefeated record with a save percentage above 95%. That’s the boring part of the story though. My memory of Lee and his state tournament run is a little different.

The Rams had just completed winning their 7th state title, and first since 1999. After a few minutes of private celebration in the locker room, Roseau head coach Scott Oliver came out to the locker room hallway and answered questions from the media members, and when they were finished, he asked which players the media wanted to talk to. A number of names were suggested, Lee was one of the first.

Lee came out of the locker room, still wearing most of his equipment. The herd of reporters circled around him and asked the types of bland post-game questions that reporters ask, that never seem to capture the excitement and magic of the moment. Most of the reporters gathered their quotes and moved to the next player, or back upstairs to finish their stories. For whatever reason, I decided to stick around to ask him just a few more questions.

The battery of my voice recorder had died earlier that day, so I don’t have an actual recording, just the few notes I could scribble in my notebook. As I was jotting down the last of a quote before asking the next question, Lee happened to notice a little kid, about 5 or 6 years old, hanging out in the hallway. Lee immediately struck up a conversation with the kid, asking if he played hockey, and if he was going to be playing in the state tournament some day. The kid, who seemed caught off-guard by the questions, answered meekly, before scattering off.

I finished the interview, thanked Lee, congratulated him one more time, and he went back to the locker room to celebrate. But for some reason that conversation with the little kid stuck out to me. It’s not just adversity that reveals character but also success.

Lee had just won a state championship, perhaps the greatest honor a Minnesotan can earn, in front of a crowd more than 6 times bigger than his hometown. A group of reporters from around the state, and even a few from elsewhere around the country, had made a point of making sure they got his thoughts on the win. This was his moment, and he had every reason to be cocky. But he wasn’t. No one could have blamed him if he wanted to make it all about him. But he didn’t. He was perfectly content to talk with a little kid he didn’t even know, and maybe help encourage him in his hockey career.

And the remarkable thing to me was that he was in the 10th grade. With the growing trend in college hockey to seek out kids younger and younger, I think people sometimes lose sight of just how young they are. I was talking with a colleague recently about a different young player that had taken an unofficial visit to a college. He hadn’t made the best impression on the coaching staff with his behavior, and it was unlikely he’d be back for another visit. I lamented that, "I suppose you can’t expect wisdom and maturity from kids that young." And that’s true. It’s a lot to ask of someone that young. I’m sure anyone expecting the same of me at that age would have been disappointed as well. But that’s what makes it so refreshing and inspiring to see kids like Lee with perspective beyond their years.

The purpose of this story isn’t to single out Mike Lee. It’s simply one anecdote among a sea of other stories, about other players all around the state. Kids who understand how lucky they are to have gotten where they are thanks to the game of hockey, and their community that works so hard to support them. And who in turn, can’t wait to pass that blessing on to the next generation of young hockey players.

Roseau head coach Scott Oliver told the St. Cloud Times, "[Lee] will win championships at St. Cloud State." Maybe he will, and maybe he won’t. Championships, especially in college hockey, can be flukey and fleeting. But maybe that little kid in the hallway went home that night and for the first time, dreamt about playing in the state tournament. And maybe some day he’ll be the one out on the ice in St. Paul. A story like that seems way more interesting to me.

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