Since I have taken over as the Editor-in-Chief of NYI Hockey Now, all interviews with players and coaches had been via Zoom.
Video calls were all I had known since graduating college in 2020, and if we are being transparent, when I heard that we would be moving to in-person interviews, there was a sense of excitement and nervousness. There’s a certain level of confidence needed to be able to look a player in the eye, especially when you can feel the emotion of a tough loss hovering over a player, a player sitting five or so feet away from you.
After the loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, where the Islanders fought from 5-1 down to make it just a one-goal game before the final buzzer, you could probably assume how high the frustration levels were during the postgame press conferences.
The main conversation was about the performance of Semyon Varlamov. I consider myself a glass-half-full kind of guy and saw some positives despite what had transpired that night.
The power play converted twice on four opportunities, Noah Dobson continued to shine–there were sure positives.
When New York Islanders captain Anders Lee and Noah Dobson came to the podium, I asked Lee his positive takeaways.
“Varly’s performance, really.”
It was a blunt answer by Lee, but an answer I understood. Semyon Varlamov had stopped 44 of 49 shots, as he faced 20 through 20 minutes, 35 through 40 minutes. The fact that the game was still tied at one after two periods of play was mind-boggling.
After a few more questions, Anders Lee and Noah Dobson left the podium and made their way back to the locker room.
As Anders was just about to pass me on the way back to the locker room, he said to me, “The fact that we stuck with it too.” before giving me a pat on the back and a head nod.
All I could think of was one word: leadership.
Lee did not owe me more of a response to my question but went out of his way to make sure that he gave his team more credit.
It’s easy to praise a captain when a team is playing well and exceeding expectations. But the character of a leader is tested when things are not going well when a team is underperforming.
This season, the Islanders have underperformed. But Lee has not hidden from the media as some do. He’s been a constant voice at the podium.
I remember my first trip to Buffalo after the Islanders put forth a lackluster performance in a 6-3 loss to the Sabres on Feb. 15. For those of you who know, that trip was unforgettable.
I asked Lee what his message was to his team and the positive takeaways following the loss.
“We will keep that in the room. I mean, we’ve got a lot to work on,” Lee said. “It starts with ourselves and playing for the guy next to you and building off of individually, and as a team playing the right way.”
Lee reached a milestone this past Monday, as he scored his 200th career NHL goal in the third period.
Following Tuesday’s practice, Matt Martin spoke about Lee’s accomplishment and what it has been like to see Lee’s career unfold.
“I remember when he was getting drafted. All the talk was about him being a quarterback and a football player. But he loved hockey, and you know, he puts a lot of work into his game,” Martin said. “So obviously, our captain, our leader, somebody who comes to work every single day and continues to put the puck in the net.”
Following Thursday’s contest, where Anders Lee scored his first career NHL hat trick, almost a year ago to the day of his ACL tear, New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz spoke about his leadership, especially this season with the way things have gone.
Well, I think Anders, his voice has a lot of merit in the room. When he speaks the guys noticed it’s genuine,” Trotz said. “They know that he cares.”
Trotz then went on to tell a story about his search for a captain back in 2018, as John Tavares had left that summer and their was a vacancy at the “C” position.
“You know when I first got here, and I didn’t know very many of the Islander players at all, other than coaching against them,” Trotz said. “And I called every one of them when I got here. You know, try to get a little bit of background on each player. And I usually finished with one of my last questions, if you had a had to have a captain because John Tavares was the captain of the Islanders for so many years, who would your vote be.”
“And it was almost unanimous that Anders would be the guy so that tells you all you need to know as a coach or a fan or anybody in hockey that there’s a lot of respect there for the way he plays, the way he handles himself, and the way he takes care of himself.”
Josh Bailey shared a story about the selfishness of Lee following his hat trick, as he could have had one a few years ago but literally passed up the opportunity.
“To be honest, I actually forgot, and then we got back to the bench I knew that he got the hat trick but I forgot that he hadn’t gotten one before,” Bailey said. “And then we started laughing because he could have had one and he passed to me with the empty net a couple of years back, which obviously didn’t allow him the hat trick.”
“So you know, we had a good chuckle at that, it was great to see it.”
Trotz was asked during his press conference about what Bailey had said about the unselfishness, adding a remark of his own.
“To me, when player remembers that, of a good deed or an unselfish deed, that goes a long way in the game,” Trotz said. “You know, players are…they’re human. They remember the unselfish deeds and the commitment. They also remember the selfish stuff too.”
“And that’s why I think when they speak about Anders it’s in the positive all the time because he’s very unselfish.”
On Feb. 21, 2020, New York Islanders legend John Tonelli had his no. 27 jersey sent to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum rafters. That usually means that number is off-limits for future use.
But Anders Lee wore 27.
“I have spoken with current Islanders team captain Anders Lee,” Tonelli said during his speech. “And from seeing the tremendous leader he is, I told him that I would be honored if he continues to wear our number until the end of his career.”
Even last season, when Lee was out of the lineup with a torn ACL and missed half the regular season and the entire playoff run, there was footage of him in the locker room doing what he could to get his teammates riled up.
Lee has been the captain of the New York Islanders since the start of the 2018-19 season, and he has been the leader the Islanders needed over these last four years.
Despite having 16 goals on the season and seven assists through 47 games, Lee has not seen himself or his team play with the level of consistency expected.
But with all the Islanders have gone through in 2021-22, the “C” seems rather safe on Anders Lee’s sweater.