By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
If there are any players who should have some insight into the opposition for next week’s SJHL/MJHL Showcase, it’s Virden’s Justin Lee.
The rookie defenceman grew up mere minutes from the American border in Waskada, Man., before moving on to play his midget AAA hockey in Wilcox, Sask., home of the Notre Dame Hounds. He put in two solid seasons with the Hounds, even getting into six games with the junior A parent club before returning to Manitoba this season to properly start his junior A career.
Having the opportunity to be so close to the SJHL product for two years, Lee feels the six games at the Showcase should be highly entertaining and competitive.
“I played a few games with the Hounds as an AP,” said Lee. “From watching and playing out there for two years, it’s going to be great competition and a lot of fun to play against some of those guys (from the SJHL).”
The inaugural SJHL/MJHL Showcase brings together the top 60 college eligible players from each league. Both leagues will ice three teams – one comprised strictly of players 18 and younger, and two teams made up of players 19 and 20 years old. The three teams will be dubbed Team Garbutt (named after former Winnipeg South Blues standout Ryan Garbutt), Team Zajac (after former St. James Canadians star Travis Zajac), and Team Belfour (named after former Winkler Flyers netminder Ed Belfour).
Lee will be on the 18-and-under Team Garbutt squad, guided by Steinbach Pistons’ head coach Paul Dyck, with his own Virden Oil Capitals head coach Troy Leslie serving as an assistant. This squad is poised to be young, fast and talented – just like their opponents. He feels events such as this Showcase can only aid players such as himself as they seek opportunities to further their hockey career at the college or university level.
“I feel very fortunate to be asked to go to this,” said Lee. “It gets you out in front of the schools and helps you progress. This also allows them another chance to see us.”
“And I think these games are going to be competitive,” he added. “We’re playing in front of schools, and everyone is going to want to put their best foot forward. I think they’ll all be highly competitive games.”
As for his own season, Lee has not disappointed – he entered the week as the league’s top-scoring rookie defenseman (and second-overall rookie scorer) with three goals and an impressive 22 assists.
“I’m having a good start to the first part of the year,” he said. “But you can always do better. I’m never satisfied, but I’m happy where things are headed.”
As for his future, while calling Lee for this story, he texted back to apologize, saying he was on the phone with a prospective school. That should be a good indicator that Lee is headed places, and next week’s SJHL/MJHL Showcase can only help him and other players fulfill their dreams.