When the New York Islanders called up Anders Lee ahead of the 2008 NHL entry draft, general manager Garth Snow wanted to know one important off-ice aspect before committing to a selection of the Edina forward.
“Are you going to play football this fall?”
Lee, who had quarterbacked the Hornets to a 10-1 record the year prior, had an answer for them, though probably not the one the organization wanted to hear.
“I told them I was and ended up not getting drafted (that year),” Lee, now 27, recalls. “I think it scared them off a little bit because injuries can happen and stuff like that but it ended up all working out in the end.”
The Islanders passed on Lee during his first draft-eligible year in 2008 but scooped up the 6-3, 231 power-forward during the sixth round (No. 152 overall) in 2009—after he completed a successful season on both the gridiron and at the rink.
During his senior season Lee passed for 1,982 yards and rushed for 1,104 with 32 touchdowns. He then went on to notch 25 goals and 84 points, quarterbacking Edina to a consolation finish at the 2009 Minnesota State High School Boy’s Hockey Tournament.
“I couldn’t see myself giving (football) up for hockey,” said Lee. “You want to play your senior year of football, especially at quarterback. It was a fun position where I got to touch the ball every play and I wasn’t going to give that up too easily. “
Now coming off a career-best 40-goal year in his sixth NHL season, Lee still keeps a keen eye on football. Wearing his SKOL baseball cap proudly, he chatted football and hockey strategy as we head into the 2018 NFL draft and the NHL offseason.
MHJ: Pressing questions first, who do the Minnesota Vikings take in the first round (No. 30) of the draft?
Anders Lee: Ah, that’s a good question, they had such a good year, and obviously the (QB Kirk) Cousins pick up was awesome. They don’t have a lot of holes, so they really don’t need a lot. Maybe if we can protect Cousins a little bit, so maybe go with a linesman and groom him for later down the line. We just don’t have a lot of glaring holes on our team.
MHJ: So safe to say you’re a big Vikings fan. If you had gone the college football route – and you had offers – instead of the hockey route, they’d be your go-to team if your talents took you to the NFL?
Lee: That’s like dreams and dreams and dreams. I would have loved to be drafted by the Vikes.
MHJ: Have you been able to meet any of the players and share your fandom with them?
Lee: I went to school with Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph (at Notre Dame), but they wouldn’t remember me. I met Kyle at a party once. We have a ton of mutual friends. Through friends of friends of friends we would be friends but he wouldn’t remember me.
MHJ: Did you ever really consider DI football, especially with your high school success and attention, or did you know that hockey was the path you wanted to pursue most?
Lee: I explored the options of playing football in college, but once I had the opportunity to go play hockey at Notre Dame, I couldn’t really compare anything else to that, so it became an easier decision. I definitely thought about and dreamt about playing college football but no, I didn’t see myself giving up hockey, that was kind of the biggest thing—and I don’t think I would have ended up in the NFL, that’s for sure.
MHJ: Which QB would you say your skills closely resembled?
Lee: I guess at the time I played most similar to Tim Tebow. (At Edina) we threw the ball a lot, we ran the ball a lot, and as the quarterback we had a lot of option reads and as I was able to decide, based on how the defense looked, if I wanted to run or throw the ball. It was a really fun offense and we had a lot of good players. It was always a good time on Friday nights.
MHJ: So you and Tebow also have the baseball aspect in common, too then…
Lee: (Laughs) I guess, but he’s a much better baseball player than I ever was. I pitched and played third base
MHJ: You were a three-sport athlete in football, hockey and baseball for most of high school – what was the decision to stick with all three like?
Lee: I ended up not playing (baseball) my senior year and kind of got ready for junior hockey. Looking back, I wish I had just played. The commitment level at the time, I really felt that I had to get ready for hockey, my focus was on that, but if I could change it I would have played because I love baseball. It’s such a different game, it’s slower pace, it’s nice to be outside and it’s a fun game. I did love baseball but it was the easiest to give up for sure.
MHJ: It seems like the multisport athletes in high school are a dying breed. Were there role models that you looked up to that helped you realize that being a well-rounded athlete was actually better than focusing on a single sport?
Lee: There’s a ton of multisport athletes that I looked at and wanted to be like. It’s a gift that living in Minnesota was able to give with the fact that the high school schedule with football, hockey and baseball, all those seasons made it easy to go from one to the other. Unless you went to the state championship in football where you’re really overlapping in league games for hockey, you don’t run into schedule problems playing them all. That set up helps promotes being able to play multiple sports. I know that (playing multiple sports) is something that’s tough to do, but it’s something I think is extremely valuable.
MHJ: How did football help you in hockey?
Lee: As a QB, the entire play is in front of you. You’ve gotta be able to read and react and look at plays in front of you and anticipate routes and make the throw and escape. All of the things it takes to be a quarterback, and really all the other positions in football, even if you’re a linebacker or on the line, it’s about body positions and athletic stances. Those are skills that translate to every sport. I think when I played hockey, a lot of that stuff in form was able to be translated and vice versa. It doesn’t hurt to be an athlete at all, and I think if you can and you want to (be a multisport athlete), I think it’s a great thing.
MHJ: Still play a pick up game of tag football when you come home?
Lee: (Laughs) I wouldn’t say we hit the field anymore. We more or less get together and catch up and what not, but maybe well have to do that some time soon.