Former Virden Oil Capitals defenceman Justin Lee spent last winter developing his game in anticipation of playing at the NCAA Division I level this winter.
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s 2018 Rookie of the Year, Lee played last season in the United States Hockey League (USHL).
He recorded 30 points in 62 games split between the Lincoln (Neb.) Stars and the Fargo (N.D.) Force. Before heading to the University of Denver, Lee opted to play in the USHL.
“It is a great league and it is really helping my development. … It is a very competitive league. It is a battle every night,” the 19-year-old said.
He started last season in Lincoln and was named an assistant captain. Cary Eades, who was the Force’s head coach last season, said the team had its eye on Lee for a long time, including when he played in Virden. The Force traded for Lee and were pleased with what they got. Eades described the Waskada product as a “a warrior.”
“He has a really high compete level,” he said. “That is one of the first things you notice about him. Any team he has played on, he has been valued as a teammate.”
In 25 games with the Force, Lee had two goals, 11 points, and 37 penalty minutes. The 5-foot-11, 182-pounder played on the penalty kill as well as the top powerplay unit. Eades praised him as a puck-moving defenceman who sees the ice well.
Eades also said Lee has the tenacity and work ethic to develop his game so that he can be impact freshman for the U of D. The Pioneers are coming off several strong NCAA Division I seasons. The squad won a national title in 2017, fell in the national semifinals in 2019, and lost in a regional final in 2018. Lee said he is looking forward to “the college experience and playing at a higher level.”
He hopes this past winter will help him succeed in the college ranks, saying the USHL has a faster pace than the MJHL - he had to keep his feet moving and read the ice faster.
“It has really helped my development,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to Virden for getting me to this level. Virden is a class organization.”
At 17, Lee played a key role on an Oil Caps squad that went to the MJHL finals. He had seven goals and 35 points in 57 games. The Virden Collegiate Institute graduate said the Oil Capitals coaching staff helped him develop his game.
“Playing in Virden was great. I loved every minute of it. The community is so great. … The fans and everyone in the organization was great. I really enjoyed my time there.”