Waterville native Matt Lee will be around for the party this weekend as Lewiston hosts the Division III men’s hockey semifinals and national championship game. Lee will be injured, but he’s still on track to be a big part of Geneseo (N.Y.) State’s program for the next three years.
Due to injuries, Lee played only three games this season. He broke his fibula and tore a tendon in his ankle earlier this season, keeping him on the bench when Geneseo faces St. Norbert in the first semifinal at 4 p.m., Friday, at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
Lee, a freshman defenseman at Geneseo, was discovered while playing for the Walpole Express of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League (now the Eastern Hockey League). He said he took a visit to Geneseo and “instantly fell in love with the school.”
“My assistant coach saw Matt play, and he knew he was the kind of defenseman we usually recruit,” Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said. “When I saw him play, I knew he’d be a good fit for us.”
Geneseo is 23-6-0 this winter, but Lee said one of the best parts of the season is the team’s camraderie.
“It’s one of my most favorite teams I’ve played on my entire life,” Lee said. “I came into the team and just had 25 or 30 brothers. It’s hard to explain how incredible it feels.”
Lee had some nagging injuries early on, and the only game he played in the first semester was a 4-1 victory over Potsdam on Nov. 9. He returned to the lineup on Jan. 16, and scored his first collegiate goal against Neumann.
“I got a pass from one of my teammates, who was behind the net,” Lee said. “The (defender) followed me on my shoulder. I cut right to the net on the goal line and just beat (the goalie) short side over his glove.”
That goal, with 2:41 to play in the first period, gave Geneseo a 2-0 lead. Lee’s goal was all set to be the game-winner until Neumann pulled its goalie and scored with 16 seconds remaining in the game.
“In my mind, I like to think of it as the game-winner,” Lee said.
Lee played the next day, but that would be his final game of the season. He broke his leg in a freak injury in practice.
“We were just doing a penalty kill,” Lee said. “I made a move in the corner. One of the guys tripped, and my leg fell under him. The force of my skate just snapped the tendon in half.”
After breaking his leg, Lee actually walked on it for a day and a half before it was diagnosed. He said he even walked across a couple parking lots from his dorm to the rink to get the leg checked out by the trainer again. He was in a cast for eight weeks before having it removed two weeks ago, and he now practices at a lower level with the team.
“I still probably shouldn’t be doing as much as I am, but it’s kind of hard not to,” Lee said. “I’ll be 100 percent in the next month or so.”
Schultz said Lee “absolutely” would have played significant minutes for the Knights this season if he had better luck with his health. Schultz likes both how Lee plays and the way he plays.
“He’s one of those guys who just appreciates the game, respects the game,” Schultz said. “He has a passion. He makes people around him more energetic and that’s what we love about him. His primary component is his skating and his play-making ability. Where we see him fitting in, especially in the future, is bringing the puck north and joining the play offensively.”
Geneseo is two wins away from Lee being able to say he played for a national champion. The Knights had never won an NCAA tournament game before this month, while St. Norbert has won three of the last six national titles.
“First of all, when the puck is dropped, we have to be confident,” Schultz said. “If we can get through the first 20 minutes tied, or even with a lead, we’re going to be in a good position.”