The Western Hockey League announced on October 31 that Kootenay Ice netminder Payton Lee had been named the league’s ‘Goaltender of the Week’ for the week ending on October 30.
Lee won two games during the week, including a 32-save performance in a 2-1 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings on Friday. He followed that up with a second consecutive victory over the Wheat Kings, making 35 saves in a 6-2 decision on Sunday.
The wins were the first two at home for the Ice this season, and Lee’s third so far this year.
Over the pair of contests, Lee notched a 1.50 goals-against average and .957 save percentage. Overall this season, Lee is third amongst all WHL goalies with a .0935 save percentage in nine games.
Lee’s honour came just days after he returned to the lineup after missing over a week with the flu.
The 20-year-old Cranbrook native has been in net in every game in which the Ice have received points. He has picked up either a win, a shootout loss, or an overtime loss in seven of his eight starts this season.
Kootenay’s leading goal-scorer, Zak Zborosky, spoke about Lee’s impact on the team following Friday night’s game.
“Having [Lee] in the lineup [makes us] confident, he’s a very good goaltender and we can rely on him sometimes like we did tonight,” Zborosky said. “He made a few big stops that not very many goaltenders can make and that was huge, he was a big difference for us.”
Lee’s achievement also comes on the heels of the team selecting their goaltending duo for the remainder of the season.
The Ice dropped down to two goaltenders late last week, after carrying three goalies since the beginning of the year. Declan Hobbs, was re-assigned to the Nipawin Hawks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, while 17-year-old Jakob Walter has been given the opportunity to stay in the WHL.
Hobbs played in 24 games for the Ice in 2015-16.
“It was a tough decision, Declan’s a great kid. We just felt that Jake came in and did a really good job through camp and the games that he played,” said coach Luke Pierce on the decision. “We’re hopeful that [Hobbs] can go back and find his game again and hopefully at some point still be a part of our future.”
With Lee as the clear starter and Walter as his backup, the Ice have increased stability as they head out on a four-game road trip this week starting with a game tonight in Regina against the Pats.
So far this year, the Ice are 1-0-1-0 against the Pats with their only win away from Cranbrook having taken place in Regina. Both teams are on hot streaks heading into Wednesday’s showdown. The Ice have two straight wins and the Pats are on a six-game tear.
In addition to Lee’s brilliance, the Ice have a number of other players currently on top of their game. Matt Alfaro has earned at least a point in his last four games (3-2-5) and Zak Zborosky has recorded multi-point games in four of his last five outings (3-4-7). Zborosky is currently tied for first in the league in goal scoring.
Troy Murray will also be looking to keeping rolling after his career game on Sunday. His three points were his highest ever total since he entered the WHL in 2013 and his game-winning goal was his first tally since February 17, 2015 — a stretch of over 90 games.
ICE CHIPS: Kaedan Taphorn is out of the Ice lineup indefinitely with an upper body injury.