OTTAWA - Hurry hard.
These days, that’s both the most common cry heard at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the approach Brian Lee is taking to his job.
Through all the dust from the tearing down of the Senators at Scotiabank Place, you may have noticed that the 23-year-old Senators defenceman has been busy saving his career. Ottawa’s first-round draft pick (ninth overall) in 2005, Lee has moved from the doghouse to the penthouse of late. From being the Senators designated sitter for 32 games — including a stretch of 25 in a row — he is now on the team’s top blueline pairing with Chris Phillips.
Injuries that have kept Sergei Gonchar, Chris Campoli, Erik Karlsson and Matt Carkner have obviously played a role in the elevation. But he’s done his part, too.
“He has played well,” Senators GM Bryan Murray said when asked if Lee has worked himself back into the picture of the team’s future. “He certainly has a good chance going forward.”
Instead of moping and pouting and filling his face with popcorn, Lee put his games as a healthy scratch to good use.
“I wasn’t happy sitting in the stands all that time. I was pretty upset, but I figured and hoped I’d get another chance, and I wanted to be ready, be better when I did,” he said before Tuesday’s meeting with the Florida Panthers. “So I tried to learn as much as I could every night.”
At the crossroads of his career — with one way leading to an everyday job as an NHL regular and the other pointed toward an eternity in the minors — Lee was in a hurry to grasp the secret to some success. And for him, a large part of it was to start using his 6-foot-3, 208-pound frame more effectively.
“I think I’m playing harder physically,” said Lee. “I think before maybe I was a little tentative. Kind of afraid to make a mistake because I never knew what they wanted.
“Once I got a chance to play again, I said f--- that, I’m just going to go out there and play hard. I’m not going to sit back and try to play a perfect game, I’m just going to play hard, go at guys, things like that.”
He’s had plenty of assistance with his development, including a big hand from unheralded strength and conditioning coach Chris Schwarz, who he gives credit to.
“I think Schwarzie really helps. And watching the games helps,” said Lee.
“You can see, sometimes, if a guy gets a puck on the boards, from the other team, if you kind of go at him half speed and contain him, that’s no good because you’ll get a penalty. but if you go at him hard and hit him, more often than not, you stop the player right in his tracks.
“I think talking to (assistant coach) Luke (Richardson) helped, (assistant coach Greg Carvel) talked to me about having a better stick, that helped ...I feel good where my game is at right now.”
Lee knows he can still get better. Right now, he’s not a Top 4 guy on a contending team. But he’s young, and he has a modest contract that will pay him $875,000 next season, and for a guy the Senators couldn’t previously find a taker for in a trade, he’s suddenly looking like a pretty decent keeper.
Obliging gentlemen Ryan Shannon and Nick Foligno, breaking down the Scotties.
Foligno: “I don’t even know who’s playing. I’m just kidding. I like curling. It’s more fun to watch live. I’ll go with Ontario. Because they’re awesome. “
Shannon: “There you have it, folks. Ontario. Because they’re awesommmmme.”
Foligno: “What, am I supposed to give a scouting report on them? You know, I like the way she pushes off the block, I like the way they sweep ...
Shannon: “Manitoba (will win). They’re comfortable on the ice. Because in Manitoba, there is ice eight months a year. They’re born to play the game.”
Foligno: “I really like the way the Ontario team sweeps.”
Being injured the last couple of weeks has allowed Jesse Winchester time to focus on his third roommate. Living with him are his brothers Geoff and Grant, plus Randy, their pet turtle. Randy, who would fit in the palm of your hand, currently lives in a 20-gallon aquarium. Sounds like he’s got it made in the shade. “He’s under a heat lamp, the water is warm, we made a diving board out of a rock, we’ve got little bugs in there for him, he just kinda chills,” said Winchester.
“We take him for walks on the hardwood floor every once in awhile. We made it pretty cool. You don’t have to worry about getting eaten by a raccoon or something. And it’s cold outside right now. It would be a cool place to live if you were a turtle.” Winchester says it used to be Randy didn’t move much, like he was shy or something. But lately he’s been coming out of his shell (ba-dum). “I like to go over and just stare at him. Wonder what he’s thinking,” said Winchester. Maybe that he could use some company? “He has little red marks on his face, like a ninja turtle. He’s small, his neck has grown a lot since Christmas.” Jesse really needs to get back playing again, soon.
“Are you writing something, really?” he said. “Because our dog will feel left out if you don’t mention her. Her name is Haley.”
THINGS I THINK I THINK
Running the table will get the Senators 93 points. Should be enough for a playoff spot. Of course, they could have made it easier on themselves by bringing in Craig Anderson and the Bingo Brigade a little earlier. Sounds like a good name for a band, doesn’t it?
See the replay of Bobby Butler’s second goal of the night? Who knew? ... For a game featuring two teams willing to sell (almost) their entire stock, 18 scouts were in attendance. The unofficial record is 21.