Tampa Bay's Lee spending lockout with Fargo Force
FARGO -- Brian Lee was skating around an ice sheet earlier this week, wearing a white jersey with blue lettering and working on fine-tuning his hockey skills.
It's what the Moorhead High School graduate would normally be doing this time of year, just not on the preferred ice rink. Lee was at Scheels Arena, wearing a Fargo Force jersey, which shares a similar color scheme with the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lee would like to trade that Force jersey for a Lightning sweater.
Lee has been skating with the Force for about a month, waiting for the NHL lockout to end so he can return to Tampa and start the season with the Lightning.
"It's tough," Lee said as Force players practiced behind him. "You kind of feel like you just drift around almost without a purpose. It's really nice the Fargo Force have let me come out and practice with them, let me stay in shape.
"I actually keep in really good shape. These guys practice really hard. That has been the one upside of this."
Lee was traded from the Ottawa Senators to Tampa Bay last season and had eight assists in 20 games with the Lightning.
"I really like the players, the coaching staff and the management," Lee said. "The city, the weather, everything is top notch. I'm looking forward to getting back there."
For now, he's playing the waiting game.
Lee said he tries to keep as informed as possible with the labor situation. The players' association sends out updates through a phone app almost daily, he said.
"My optimism is shrinking every day that we don't play, but I'm still hoping and preparing like we're going to have a season," said the 25-year-old Lee, who has played in the NHL for five seasons.
Lee has been practicing with the Force usually four times a week. Lee said making sure he's ready to play when and if a labor agreement is struck is crucial. He thanks the Force for helping in that regard.
"I want to be ready to go 100 percent when the year starts," Lee said. "These guys have helped me to keep a really high conditioning level, helped me keep my skill set sharp."
Lee also hopes the fans will come back once the season starts.
"I think the league had a lot of excitement going for it before this lockout started, so hopefully the fans will come back and support us and know we want to play," Lee said. "But, at the same time, we want a fair deal to go back."