Tuesday night's 5-4 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Newark was painful in more ways than one for the New York Islanders and their captain Anders Lee.
With just over two minutes left to play, New Jersey's Brendan Smith caught Lee with his head down and sent him to the ice. Lee then sought Smith by the benches and asked him to fight. The defenseman obliged and Lee got the worst of the bout, taking a left hook to the face that left him bleeding from the nose before getting a chance to settle in.
Rather than act defeated and skate with his head down toward the dressing room, Lee, with blood covering his face, stuck out his tongue and emphatically let out a "wooooo!" as he glided by his teammates in an attempt to fire them up for the game's final minutes. Although the valiant display failed to propel the team to a win or even a point, it was a moment that exemplified how much the 33-year-old loves the game, his teammates, and his role as captain of the Islanders.
When Lee takes the ice tonight in Carolina, the 15th captain in Islanders history will become the 12th Islander player in franchise history to skate in 700 games with the team. Next on the list is another fellow captain, Patrick Flatley, who played in 712 games across 13 seasons on Long Island and was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 2011.
"He's a heart and soul guy; that's why he's our captain," said head coach Lane Lambert after Wednesday's practice. "He's a leader, he rallies guys. There's no question that 700 games is a great accomplishment for him. He's done it the hard way."
Drafted with the 152nd pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, Lee defied the odds and has gone on to score 244 goals in 699 career games and is the last Islanders player to score 40 goals in a season when he hit the milestone during the 2017-18 season. After John Tavares departed for Toronto, head coach Barry Trotz named him captain, and Lee has been the team leader on and off the ice ever since.
Last year, he was a finalist for the King Clancy Trophy, given annually to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community. "It's still mind-boggling a little bit to play hockey this long, and to play this long in this league is really special, said Lee on Wednesday. "I'm not taking anything for granted, trying to enjoy it and make the most of it."
Lee, who suffered a major knee injury in March 2021, is one of only three active Islanders to play in over 100 consecutive games with 133. Only Brock Nelson (105) and Ryan Pulock (104) have remained as healthy and available as Lee during the last season plus.
"This is a great game; it's fun to play. It presents its challenges, it's not easy during the season, and where we are as a team, Lee added. "There will always be things, challenges, and tough moments, but so much opportunity to grow as a team and player."