For the longest time, 140 games to be precise, Cranbrook native Payton Lee held down the fort as the go-to goaltender for the Vancouver Giants.
That all changed Nov. 5, when the Giants dealt the soft spoken, 6-foot-1 puck-stopper to the Edmonton Oil Kings in exchange for a sixth-round pick at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.
“It’s obviously a little bit of a blow to your confidence when you get traded,” Lee said Tuesday night after collecting a 6-3 victory over the Kootenay Ice in front of friends and family. “Edmonton needed a goalie and they traded for me. It’s been great. They’ve given me a great opportunity and I’ve been treated nothing but the best so far. I’m just looking forward to keeping it going.”
Lee, along with the Giants, got off to a rough start at the beginning of the 2015-16 Western Hockey League campaign.
The 19-year-old was dealt only 15 games into the Giants schedule, having chalked up a record of 3-5-1-1 with a 3.36 goals-against average (GAA) and .896 save percentage (SP). Not exactly shining numbers.
Since arriving in Edmonton, Lee has served alongside fellow netminder Patrick Dea. The Cranbrook product has seen action in 16 of the Oil Kings’ 35 games since his acquisition and he’s managed a 7-7-2-0 mark, fuelled by a 2.59 GAA, .906 SP along with one shutout.
The Oil Kings have found momentum in recent weeks, with Tuesday’s triumph over the Ice coming as Edmonton’s third consecutive victory and fifth win in six tries.
The chaotic 6-3 outing at Western Financial Place pushed the Oil Kings past the Regina Pats and into the top wild card position in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
“We’ve just been working hard in practice and trying to follow the coach’s game plan and battle for each other,” Lee said. “We all want to make playoffs.”
With this latest run, Lee and the Oil Kings (22-23-6-1) are certainly building towards that. The next task on hand is three games through the B.C. Division, beginning Saturday against the Kamloops Blazers (23-19-5-3), before visiting Lee’s old Giants (20-27-3-2) Feb. 8 and wrapping up the trip against the Victoria Royals (31-15-2-3) Feb. 9.
“We’ve just got to try and get as many points as we can,” Lee said. “Our previous B.C. road trip when I first got traded here didn’t go so well. We’ve got to make up for those points and try to battle for every point we can.”
The trip Lee refers to, a six-game swing from Nov. 13 through 21, saw the Oil Kings go 1-5-0, collecting only two of a possible 12 points.
Friends and family in Cranbrook can look forward to two more visits from Lee and the Oil Kings. The next date between Kootenay and Edmonton is slated for Fri., Feb. 26, with the final match up coming Tues., March 15.
Lee spent 140 games (2011-12 to 2015-16) in Vancouver after the Giants tabbed him with the 28th-overall selection in the second round of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft.
Over his 140-game tenure in Vancouver, Lee went 52-71-5-4 with five shutouts.
In 27 total games this season, split between the Giants and Oil Kings, Lee is 10-12-3-1 with one shutout.