Jesse Lees of the Mount Royal Cougars is becoming one of the elite offensive defencemen in the country.
The second-year defenceman has amassed 21 points (10G, 11A) in 21 games so far this season putting him tops amongst blueliners in the Canada West. Lees had four-goal game in an 8-2 win over the Regina Cougars on Jan. 5. Earning him Canada West men’s second star of the week honours.
“Getting the first one was kind of a lucky one that skipped in and they just kept coming,” Lees said.
“At that point, there’s not really too much you can say, it’s just kind of in awe, they just keep going in every time you shoot the puck. It’s one of those games that don’t happen very often, if ever, definitely lucky to get one of those under my belt.”
Lees followed that performance up with a four-point weekend in a series sweep of the Lethbridge Pronghorns on Jan. 12-13. He then scored the game-tying and game-winning goals this past weekend in a 4-3 win over the Manitoba Bisons. Lees is now three goals away from tying Calgary’s Giffen Nyren for most goals by a defenceman in a Canada West regular season in the last decade with 13.
Lees’ offensive style stems from when he was a kid, where he originally wanted to play forward but was thrown on the blue line since then he has modeled his game after Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kris Letang.
“I love the way he plays I love watching him play, everything about him, even the non-hockey side of it, with everything he does in the community,” Lees said.
Lees played 294 games in the WHL before coming to Mount Royal, spending time with the Kelowna Rockets and Prince Albert Raiders. There he amassed 55 goals and 107 assists during a span of five seasons.
“I was lucky enough to have awesome coaches every year that I played, I was super, super lucky I had great billets,” Lees said. “Definitely have nothing bad to say it, definitely been the best part of my life so far, wouldn’t trade anything for the experiences that I had.”
In his first year patrolling the Cougars’ blueline, Lees played 28 games racking up seven goals and 13 assists. For his efforts, Lees was awarded the Mount Royal Male Rookie of the Year award.
“Obviously I couldn’t have done it without my team, I think last year we had a really good group of older guys that really helped us first years out to find the ropes and figure out what Cougar hockey is like. At the end of the day it’s a team sport, it’s a team sport it’s awesome to get the individual recognition but at the end of the day I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my teammates.
The Cougars went through a bit of a transition this season, with a lot of senior players moving on, and having 13 new players come in, putting Lees in a bit of a leadership role.
“It’s definitely a challenge. Me and Bert [Gilling] have had many talks about it, the leadership group we talk about it quite a bit,” he said. “There’s a couple other guys who are in the same boat as me and we rely on each other and help each other out when we don’t know what direction to go.”
So far this season, the Cougars are 11-10-1 for fifth in the conference, two points back of the fourth placed UBC Thunderbirds. The big game on everyone’s mind is the Crowchild Classic game against the Calgary Dinos tomorrow at the Saddledome.
“It’s definitely one you circle on the calendar, you can’t wait for all summer and all year leading up to it,” Lees said.
“It’s such a crazy atmosphere, not like anything you really ever experience having all the college kids there screaming and having lots of fun. It’s an awesome environment to play in, especially being from Calgary getting to play in the Saddledome, having family and friends out here to watch it.”
With both the Cougars and Dinos sporting so many local products, the rivalry has a unique flair to it.
“A lot of us grew up playing with or against each other whether it was in minor hockey in Calgary or through the Western League or Junior A whatever it be so majority of the guys on both teams know each other,” Lees said.
“There’s definitely a good rivalry there and I don’t think it just stays in hockey, I think throughout all the sports at both universities there’s definitely a big rivalry that goes on to be the better university in Calgary.”