For fans tuning into the 2017 World Championships, a player stuck out like a sore thumb on the blue line for Team Canada. Wearing number 42 among the other NHL stars was a face that few recognized, but would learn to appreciate by the end of the tournament. Chris Lee stepped into a roster spot and ice time vacated by an injured Tyson Barrie and recorded two points in seven games en route to a silver medal. Lee had never played in the World Championships—or any major international tournament—for Canada before, and had no prior NHL experience.
Lee at the age of 36, had parlayed a 65-point season in the KHL into an invitation to the tournament where he played exceptionally well. Success in the KHL wasn’t a new experience for Lee, who had been one of the best offensive defensemen in the league since coming over from the German DEL and Swedish SHL—two other leagues he dominated in his short time there. There was also successful stints in the AHL prior to that, but they never even earned him an NHL contract let alone a sniff of the highest level of professional hockey.
The undrafted defensemen signed a professional tryout with the Los Angeles Kings for their 2017 training camp, but didn’t make the team. He returned to the KHL and Metallurg Magnitogorsk while also suiting up for Canada at the Olympics. He wore an “A” as an alternate captain of that squad, which wasn’t allowed to include NHL players this time around. An Olympic bronze medal came about this time around, but the Gagarin Cup was out of reach in 2018 for his KHL squad.
Last night in a lengthy ceremony, Lee’s retirement and career was honored by Magnitogorsk as his number was raised to the rafters. The team released a “thank you” article, and Lee even received a star outside the arena. A two-time Gagarin Cup champion, Lee goes down as one of the extreme oddities in the history of Canadian international hockey competition, at least in the modern era. Never given a chance at the NHL level and overlooked for much of his career, he still found incredible success on the ice as a player.