When the Roseau Rams began thinking about their quest for another state title next season, they knew they would be doing so without their best player, NHL draft-eligible defenseman Aaron Ness.
What they might not have expected was they will be making the journey without their second-best player, goaltender Mike Lee.
Lee, who lost just two games in his entire career with the Rams, has signed on to play with the Fargo Force of the United States League, the top junior circuit in America.
For the young goalkeeper, the decision was based on the future.
“I just wanted to move on and continue to develop my game,” Lee said. “As I told the guys, I want to be the first goalie from Roseau to play in the NHL.”
Lee is certainly on the right track. Draft eligible in 2009, he will suit up for the WCHA’s St. Cloud Huskies once his tenure with the Force is finished. The Huskies’ current goaltender, Jase Weslosky, is a New York Islanders draft pick who will be a senior at St. Cloud when Lee enters as a freshman, providing a great bridge for the team.
In the meantime, Lee will guard the net for the Force, an expansion team with a not-so-expansion lineup.
“The Ohio team just folded,” Lee explained. “We’re getting their veterans.”
Along with the crop of ex-Jr. Blue Jackets, Lee will play alongside former Warroad High rival Bryce Ravndalen, former Shattuck-St. Mary’s defenseman Garrett Clarke and Minnesota Golden Gophers recruit Nate Condon.
Ravndalen will also be joining Lee at St. Cloud and, like many Warroad and Roseau kids, they’re already friendly with each other off the ice.
But leaving Roseau was not an easy choice for Lee.
“We sat down, my family and I, and talked about the pros and cons,” he said.
In the end, Fargo won out. The fact that Lee won’t have to billet in his new locale was also a positive.
“My mom has family there,” he noted. “So I’ll be living with my cousins.”
As for the groin injury that contributed to Lee’s only two losses in high school – the final two games of this year’s state tournament – he says the healing is complete.
“It’s back to normal,” he said. “State was not good. Obviously (the injury) didn’t help.”
And while Wednesday’s USHL draft yielded even more players for the fledgling Force, none of them were from Roseau. In fact, no Rams were chosen in the USHL draft this year, meaning several seniors will still be looking for places to play next season.
It is not the end of the road, however; due to the volatility of the league’s rosters, where players may be scooped up by Canadian major junior leagues or added from hockey factories such as Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the draft is not the be-all, end-all.
It is common for undrafted players to crack training camp rosters, which means there are several Rams who will have very important summers ahead of them if they want to suit up for, or against, their former star goaltender next year.
The Hockey News will be following the Roseau Rams high school hockey team every week (every second week during the off-season), chronicling its journey on the road back to the state championship and beyond and providing an inside look at what its like to be a teenager on one of the most fabled varsity teams in America.
Click HERE to read previous Year of the Ram stories.
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