SPECIAL REPORT: Former Moorhead, UND star Lee signs a two-year contract with Tampa Bay

Former Moorhead and University of North Dakota star defenseman Brian Lee has signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Lee, according to the Lightning’s Twitter account, was a restricted free agent. The former Mr. Hockey winner and first-round pick was sent to Tampa Bay during the NHL’s Trade Deadline in February by the Ottawa Senators, the team which drafted him back in 2005 with the ninth overall pick.

After the trade, Lee played in 20 games with the Lightning scoring eight points. In all, he played in 55 games between his time with Ottawa and Tampa Bay – two more than his previous career high of games in a season. His 16 points were also the most in his career.

Lee will return to a Tampa Bay franchise looking to rebound from a rocky season finishing 38-36-8 where it missed out on the playoffs, a year after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals and losing to eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins.

Prior to his NHL career, Lee was a star at Moorhead scoring 48 points as a junior and 38 as a senior en route to winning Mr. Hockey. He had a 12-game stint with the Lincoln Stars before playing two years at the University of North Dakota where he scored 53 points in 82 games before leaving school to pursue his pro career.


Carry On Wayward Son…

Former Moorhead star Brian Lee was traded this afternoon from the Ottawa Senators to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for former Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy.

Lee, 24, was selected by the Senators with the tenth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Lee played 12 games of junior hockey with the Lincoln Stars in the United States Hockey League before playing college hockey at North Dakota. Lee left North Dakota after two seasons going pro joining the Senators on a full-time basis in the 2008-09 season.

The former Minnesota Mr. Hockey award winner played 53 games with the Senators scoring a career-high 13 points in his first season. Since then, Lee fell on hard times with the club. Roster shuffles and coaching changes among other things saw Lee fall further down the pecking order.

Lee played in 50 games last season but wasn’t getting a lot of playing time and often found himself a healthy scratch.

This year, Lee has scored eight points in 35 games with the Senators, who are second in the Northeast Division and currently sits seventh in the Eastern Conference standings in the hopes of making the playoffs.

Despite his contributions, Lee was in a tough position when it came to fighting for minutes this season. Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson is having one of the seasons in the NHL leading all league defensemen in scoring with 65 points in 63 games. Karlsson’s season coupled with experienced veterans and the emergence of Jared Cowan, the team’s first-round pick in 2009, meant Lee was the odd man out.

Lee will head to Tampa Bay, which six points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay, however, is also going through a bit of an injury crisis with hits defense. Three of the team’s defenseman are injured including former first-round pick Victor Hedman.

Injuries have opened up spots on the Lighting’s young blueline meaning Lee could get a chance at getting more minutes and cementing himself in a team’s lineup. Joining Tampa Bay means Lee will be playing alongside NHL stars Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.

He’ll also be joined by another former North Dakota hockey star in defenseman Mike Commodore. Commodore was also traded to Tampa Bay today by the Detroit Red Wings in the hopes of adding another body and experience to the team.

The earliest Lee could debut with his new team could come tomorrow when Tampa Bay hosts Montreal.

Feel Good Inc…

Instead of hitting up the oh-so-infamous woodchipper like most visitors, Tri-City Storm goaltender Adam Wilcox did something else when he came to town the other day.

He went curling. Yes, curling. Tri-City spent hours curling giving Wilcox his first chance to play the game.

“I am a natural,” Wilcox said with a smile. “I am a sniper. We had a little one-on-one game and I took him down.”

Curling aside, going to Tri-City has also given the 19-year-old Wilcox a chance to be a No. 1 goaltender in the USHL. Wilcox emerged last season going 16-6-1 with a 2.20 GAA in his first season with the Green Bay Gamblers.

He did it as a backup and ultimately helped the Gamblers reach the Clark Cup Finals.

Wilcox, a Minnesota commit, had such a good season it was why the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted him in the sixth round. After showing he could do it in the USHL as the No. 2, the plan was for Wilcox to be the Gamblers’ No. 1 choice at goaltender this season.

Until he learned last season’s starter Ryan McKay, a Miami (Ohio) commit, was returning to the team.

“I was expected to be the guy there and McKay came back and threw everything for a loop,” Wilcox said. “We another goalie coming in and I heard in the Fall Classic I was supposed to be traded here. When they told me I was being traded here, I wasn’t surprised.”

Wilcox admitted when he arrived in Kearney, Neb. he didn’t know what to expect when it came to getting to know his teammates and everything else which comes with playing on a new team.

He said he’s enjoyed getting to know his teammates and his billet family yet Wilcox didn’t need an introduction to what’s going on with the Storm these days.

It hasn’t been a great start to the season for the Storm, which after Friday night’s 7-5 loss to the Fargo Force keeps them in last place in the Western Conference. Wilcox started in the loss making 27 saves for his second loss in the three games he’s played with the Storm since the trade.

“I am used to it going back to high school,” Wilcox said in regards to coming back from last place. “We had to come up from being down. This conference can go either way and we are up there in terms of talent. Obviously the record isn’t showing it, but by the end of the year, we can be up there.”

If Wilcox wants to make his USHL mark, this could be the year to lead the Storm out of the cellar and put them in spot to contend for one of the six playoff spots in the Western Conference.

Should Wilcox pull it off, it would surely be a nice way to leave the USHL before he enrolls at Minnesota next season. Wilcox said he’s been paying attention to the Gophers and what they’ve been doing this season.

“It’s really nice to see them do well,” Wilcox said. “There were a couple years where they had a slump, which every team has but it is nice to see them do well this year. They are a young team and they are not losing much after this year except for their goalie so I will be coming into a good situation.”

Falling For The First Time…

The USHL announced its Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie team today and Dubuque forward and Northeastern commit John Gaudreau was named scooped up both awards.

He was joined on the All-Rookie Team by Dubuque teammate and Maine commit Matt Morris, Sioux City defenseman and North Dakota commit Jordan Schmaltz, Omaha defenseman/Minnesota commit and Detroit Red Wings draft pick Ben Marshall.

On offense, Gaudreau led the team and he was followed by Force forward Jimmy Mullin (Miami/Tampa Bay Lightning) and Indiana Ice forward Daniil Tarasov.

Here’s more from the USHL release:

Matt Morris (G), Dubuque Fighting Saints

The 17-year-old native of Ridgewood, New Jersey posted a 23-8-4 record in helping the Saints finish first in the Western Conference.  His 23 victories tied for the fourth highest total in the USHL and he was second among League goaltenders with a 2.17 goals-against-average.  Morris posted a .921 save percentage and earned four shutouts.  Over his first 10 games in the USHL, he compiled an 8-0-1 record which included three shutouts.  He is committed to play collegiately at the University of Maine following his USHL career.

Jordan Schmaltz (D), Sioux City Musketeers

The defenseman from Verona, Wisconsin led all USHL defensemen in scoring with 44 points (13g, 31a) in 53 regular season games.  Five times this season the 17-year-old was named CCM Defensive Player of the Week.  Schmaltz finished the regular season riding a 10-game point streak (6g, 14a), helping the Musketeers to a 9-1-0 record over that stretch and earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2008.  It is the fifth time in the last six seasons that a member of the Musketeers has been named to the USHL All-Rookie Team.  Schmaltz is committed to the University of North Dakota following his USHL career.

Ben Marshall (D), Omaha Lancers

The 18-year-old was sixth among USHL defensemen in scoring with 33 points (11g, 22a) in 56 games.  Five of his goals were game-winners which were the most among USHL defensemen and tied for sixth overall in the League.  Marshall finished the regular season tied for 10th in the USHL with a plus-20 rating and was second among defensemen with 142 shots on goal.  The native of Stillwater, Minnesota is committed to play collegiate hockey at the University of Minnesota.  He is also a 2010 NHL Entry Draft selection of the Detroit Red Wings (201st overall).

John Gaudreau (F), Dubuque Fighting Saints

The rookie forward played all 60 regular season games and scored 36 goals, the second highest total in the USHL.  He was fourth overall in League scoring with 72 points (36g, 36a) and had the third most game-winning goals (7).  The 17-year-old from Carneys Point, New Jersey led the USHL with 15 power play goals and had the best shooting percentage in the League (.234).  Twice during the regular season, Gaudreau compiled five-game goal scoring streaks.  He is committed to play college hockey at Northeastern University following his USHL career.

Jimmy Mullin (F), Fargo Force

The 19-year-old led the Force in scoring and was seventh in the USHL with 60 points (23g, 37a) in 52 regular season games.  He was fourth overall in the League with a plus-29 rating.  Mullin equaled a team record for points in a game when he collected five (1g, 4a) in the 6-2 win vs. Sioux City on December 3rd, 2010.  On three occasions this season, he earned honors as the CCM Offensive Player of the Week.  The Cincinnati, Ohio native is committed to continue his hockey career at Miami University.  Mullin was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fourth round (118th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Daniil Tarasov (F), Indiana Ice

The Moscow, Russia native led the entire USHL with 37 goals and was second overall in scoring with 75 points (37g, 38a) in 57 games.  His plus-34 rating was also the second highest mark in the League.  The 19-year-old was third in the League in shots on goals (217) and tied for the USHL lead scoring eight game-winning goals.  Tarasov recorded seven multi-goal games this season, including a hat trick on January 22nd vs. Chicago.  The forward finished the regular season riding an eight-game point streak in which he collected 13 points (8g, 5a).