In a matter of four days, Chris Lee went from the highlight of his professional hockey career to an abrupt lowlight.
On Oct. 3, Lee deposited the game-winning goal for the New York Islanders in a 3-2 preseason win over New Jersey. It was an ideal outing for the SUNY Potsdam product and Isles defenseman on his 28th birthday.
"The way it all came together, it was kind of fitting," said Lee in a phone interview last week. "Being in the lineup is one thing, but to finish that way was special."
Lee wasn't expecting a moment like that, or the one that would occur three days later. In another preseason matchup, Lee was slammed into the boards by Florida's Rostislav Olesz. He lay on the ice for several minutes, eyes fixated on the game clock, which was stuck on 11 minutes, 2 seconds. He was conscious and able to move his extremities, but he was taken off on a stretcher.
Lee spent the night in a South Florida hospital and flew back to New York the following morning. He classified the hit as an accident and a shot that couldn't be second-guessed. He also heard from Olesz.
"He called me the next night and apologized," Lee said. "It took a lot of courage on his part. It was bad luck more than anything."
The only one with worse luck was Lee. Once he returned to New York, he was one of seven players assigned to Bridgeport — New York's American Hockey League affiliate. The Islanders made their final roster cuts before the start of the regular season.
Lee waited two weeks before he started skating again. He expects to be cleared by team doctors today to officially rejoin his Bridgeport teammates. He's evolved quickly from a stat-stuffing forward in Potsdam to a crafty defenseman in the minors for the last four seasons. He supplied 28 points in 68 games for the AHL's Iowa Stars last year.
"With the direction hockey is heading in, everyone is looking for skating and puck-moving defensemen," Lee said. "Personally, being a forward before, it's working my way."
Lee experienced his first NHL training camp with the Islanders this fall. He called it "nerve-wracking" at times, hoping not to disappoint seasoned forwards such as Bill Guerin and Doug Weight. Lee said maturing players are always eager to tell stories about watching the veterans on television when they were younger.
"I'm not so young anymore," Lee joked. "I'm in that gray area where I'm still a rookie, but I'm a not."
But Lee hopes to blossom enough to earn his spot on New York's roster. He treasured every second of training camp — the highs and lows — and will wait patiently for another chance.
"It's been a lot of fun," Lee said. "Ask any other pro hockey player. It's a great life to live."
WILL BOGOSIAN STAY OR GO?
Atlanta head coach John Anderson has a critical decision to make this week.
The Thrashers' first-year coach must choose whether to keep Massena native Zach Bogosian on the roster or send the budding defenseman back to the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League. NHL teams have nine regular-season games to determine whether a draft pick stays on the roster or returns to his previous team.
Bogosian is one of seven defensemen on Atlanta's roster. The 18-year-old has appeared in seven games, but has yet to record a point. He's clearly needed to assist Atlanta's shaky defense and for the continuation of the Thrashers' youth movement.
The consensus around the league, however, is that Bogosian is transitioning into a prototypical blueliner in the NHL faster than expected. He was introduced to the league in stirring fashion when he scrapped with Washington enforcer Donald Brashear in Atlanta's season opener on Oct. 9. Bogosian checked the Capitals' David Steckel into the boards with 20 seconds left in regulation, which prompted Brashear to grapple with the rookie. Bogosian stood his ground during the 13-second scuffle.
Anderson was pleased with Bogosian's poise, as well as the two hits and one shot on goal he provided in his first professional game.
"I really liked him and we have lots of time to make decisions with him, but I think he's here to stay," Anderson told NHL.com. "I hope he continues to get better."
You can see Bogosian in action when Atlanta faces Philadelphia at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the Versus network. When the Thrashers play on Thursday at the New York Rangers, you'll know if Bogosian will be around for good.
HOWARD BACK IN GRAND RAPIDS
Ogdensburg native Jimmy Howard caught a bad break during his preseason with the Detroit Red Wings.
Howard sustained a broken finger, which curtailed his chances of becoming the backup goalie for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He was activated from the injured-reserve list on Oct. 16 and sent back to the team's AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids for a fourth consecutive season.
An AHL All-Star last season, Howard made his first start for the Griffins two days later. He made 25 saves and allowed one shootout goal as Grand Rapids edged Lake Erie, 4-3.