Quiet, small, gentlemanly, unassuming.
These are not necessarily the traits one would normally equate with the captain of a hockey team. But those are words that can accurately describe North Van Wolf Pack captain Justin Lee, who in his final season of junior hockey helped his team earn the second PJHL title in franchise history and will lead them into the provincial championship tournament this week in Campbell River.
Of course, there are other words that describe the 20-year-old North Vancouver native as well.
“Justin is just unbelievable,” Wolf Pack general manager and assistant coach Matt Samson told the North Shore News earlier this season. “He’s the kind of kid you want on the ice in every situation. He’s just such an honest player. He works hard, he back checks, he’s in the right spots, he’s creative offensively. And I can’t speak enough about his character off the ice. He comes from a great family. … He’s great in the dressing room and he’s just a phenomenal player to watch.”
In his third year with the Wolf Pack, and first as captain, Lee finished second on the team with 58 points in 36 games and earned the league’s sportsmanship award.
Hockey is a game that often favours larger players, but Lee has made his mark despite being listed as one of the smallest players on the team at 5-9, 155 pounds. He is usually one of the smallest players on the ice, but his play makes a big statement.
“I always like to keep my head on a swivel just to make sure I know where everyone is on the ice,” he said. “That way I know when guys are going to be coming at me and when they’re not. That kind of helps when you’re smaller, because you’ve got to know if you’re going to get hit or not. I like to think I’m a pretty good skater, so I can use my speed and all that, and moving the puck with my line mates.”
It’s Samson’s belief that Lee has more than enough ability to star at higher levels than the Wolf Pack’s junior B league, but he was likely overlooked due to his size.
Lee might agree, but he says he has no regrets about playing for his hometown team after a youth career that saw him play at the North Shore Winter Club, the West Vancouver Hockey Academy and the Burnaby Winter Club Academy.
“If I was a little bit bigger, maybe I would have been at that next level, but I’m happy with how things have worked out here,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better from the owners or the coaches and all that, all my teammates as well. … Being from North Van, playing for the Wolf Pack was a really attractive option for me. I live in North Van, I go to school in North Van and I play hockey in North Van. Everything is super local for me.”
Lee attends Capilano University, and after this season will be looking to further his hockey career at the university level.
Before that, however, he and the rest of the Pack will be fighting for a provincial title at the Cyclone Taylor Cup running Thursday through Sunday in Campbell River. They’ll have their hands full in their opening game Thursday night against the host Campbell River Storm, a game that will be played in front of a packed house immediately following the tournament’s opening ceremony at Rod Brind’Amour Arena. On Friday they’ll face the KIJHL champion Revelstoke Grizzlies before taking on the VIJHL champion Victoria Cougars on Saturday.
The Wolf Pack will need to find their legs quickly on the Island, as they haven’t played a competitive game for three full weeks after sweeping the Langley Trappers in the PJHL championship series. The team, however, will be ready to go when the puck drops, said Lee,
“We’re really rested compared to the other teams who just finished off their playoffs,” he said. “We’re going to be fresh, I think everyone is going to be excited to play again. Obviously we’re hoping to win it all.”