Last weekend, Payton Lee found himself among some pretty elite company.
The young goaltender for the Vancouver Giants rubbed shoulders with his fellow CHL crease-guardians at a Hockey Canada goaltending camp in Calgary last weekend, which featured some of the top talent across the country.
“It was awesome, going in there I just wanted to head in there with an open mind knowing there was all these goalies, like Zachary Fucale, a Memorial Cup guy and Jake Patterson, the goalie for the World Junior team last year,” said Lee, “so just went in there with an open mind, learning from all the coaches and then watching the other guys and learning from what they have.”
A familiar face joined Lee at the camp, as Kootenay Ice stopper Mackenzie Skapski also got an invite for a second year in a row, after going through the experience last off-season.
The two netminders go back a ways, as both their fathers knew each other growing up and playing hockey against each other.
“We went there a few days early to get some ice time and be prepared for the camp,” said Lee, “so it was definitely good to have a guy that you knew going into the camp and he’s in the same group as me so that helped that much more to have a guy that you can bounce the feedback that you’re getting back from coaches off and share ideas with each other.”
The 19 attendees were split up into two groups over the four-day camp, which featured 13 U20 goaltenders and six U18 stoppers.
“It’s a great learning experience and a humbling thing to get invited to,” said Lee. “I’m very thankful to get recognized as somebody who could go to that, but at the end of the day, I’m just really thankful that I was blessed with the experience there and got to learn as much as I could.”
Lee said everyone was kept pretty busy with on- and off-ice sessions covering everything from technique to nutrition.
“You have the basic ice time and fitness routine and that sort of stuff, but especially for me, the mental coaching and nutritional stuff is really important to me and that was helpful,” Lee said.
“Obviously as well, the on-ice coaching was amazing so that was all really good for me to have different thoughts from different coaches from across Canada.”
The camp invite is one of the highlights for Lee after going through a roller coaster season with the Vancouver Giants, which missed the playoffs and finished at the bottom of the WHL standings this past year.
Although he was initially disappointed at getting sent down to Jr. B hockey with the Richmond Sockeyes of the PIJHL at the beginning of the season, it was the right call from the coaching staff, Lee said.
“It was my first year as a 16-year-old so they wanted to make sure I was prepared and not sort of feeding me to the wolves as we had a pretty young team,” said Lee.
“…At the end of the day it was a great learning experience with lots of shots and just looking forward to getting back at ‘er next year.”
Lee was called back up in November and stayed on with the club for the rest of the year, where he had a 3.51 goals against average and an 0.879 save percentage in 36 games.
Born in New Westminster, Lee’s family moved to Cranbrook when he was six years old, but the young goaltender relocated to the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy to develop, where he got picked up by the Giants in the second round of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft.
He got a taste of international competition over the Christmas break, suiting up for Team Pacific in the U17 World Hockey Challenge.
He’s been home in Cranbrook for most of the offseason, but once he gets his drivers license in July, he’ll head back down to Vancouver to continue his training.
“Our guys are already talking and our goal is to obviously make playoffs this year—you can’t have two bad seasons in a row,” said Lee. “All of our young guys and stuff like that are ready to step up and we’re just going to try and make a playoff appearance, just learn as much as we can and have a more successful season.”