For the past month, Anders Lee has seen an awfully familiar face in the Sound Tigers locker room. Nick Larson was recalled from the Stockton Thunder (ECHL) on October 16th, reuniting the former high school and college teammates at the pro level. Growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, the two knew each other from a very young age.
“We played against each other as kids growing up, so I knew him then,” Larson said. “I was a year older than him in school so we played my sophomore and junior year together, which was his freshman and sophomore year. We won the state tournament in 2006. Then we reconnected in college for three years and it's kind of funny that we're on the same path and ended up on the same team right now.”
Lee and Larson attended St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Minn., where they were two players on a very talented high school hockey roster.
“We played with a lot of really good players in high school, Lee said. “Aaron Crandall was our goalie; he plays for the University of Minnesota-Duluth right now. Jordan Schroeder, he's with Vancouver now but he played at the University of Minnesota. There were a lot of guys who have already had successful careers. There was a lot of talent in that locker room at St. Thomas and that's why we had such a great team.”
Lee and Larson helped St. Thomas to the Minnesota state title in 2006. It was an exciting tournament, and one in which the two current Sound Tigers played a large role.
“It was incredible,” Larson said. “We had two overtime games and a game in the championship where we came back and won. We were down two goals with six minutes left. They put Anders and I on the same line, which would have been more like a second or third line at the time. But we actually scored two goals in eight seconds to tie it up and then Jordan Schroeder scored to win it for us in the last minute of the game. It was an exciting time, and being a kid from Minnesota, there's nothing better than winning a state championship.”
Following their junior hockey careers in the USHL, Larson was drafted by the Calgary Flames, while Lee was selected by the Islanders. Both opted to attend the University of Notre Dame. Lee, a year younger, came to the school when Larson was already a sophomore.
“It definitely helped coming in to know a guy like that,” Lee said. “It made it a real easy transition, but we had a real good group at Notre Dame, a real tight-knit group that made everyone's transition pretty easy.”
Lee took on a leadership role with the Fighting Irish, serving as an alternate captain his junior year—when Larson was still there—and captained the team his senior year.
“He's a great leader,” Larson said. “Every year that I've played with him it's been a pleasure. He's one of those guys that everyone looks up to and you watch him on and off the ice and he's always doing the right thing. So he's a great guy to be around and he's always a help on and off the ice.”
When Larson came in from Stockton, the two had their roles reversed. Now, it was the younger Lee, who took part in Islanders training camp before the season, looking to make it easier for Larson, who was new to the organization.
“If there's anything I can do to help, I do what I can,” Lee said. “I might know a little bit more just from being here a little bit longer, whether it's in drills or the locker room. But he knows his stuff and right now we're just enjoying it together and working hard.”
Larson and Lee have played with each other for nearly 10 years, and know each other’s games almost as well as their own.
“Larsy's got a lot of energy,” Lee said. “He's a great skater. And he's going to create a lot of havoc out there and make plays. He’s a great guy to have on your team.”
Larson was equally as complimentary to a player who is second on the team in points in 2013-14.
“Anders is extremely gifted,” Larson said. “He's a huge body, but some people also overlook how skilled he is. He has incredible hands and probably the best shot I've ever seen in just consistently getting pucks to the net. He's a competitor and he's always going to bring it every day.”
“If there's one person I've every played with who I'd want to have the puck on his stick at the end of the game, it'd be Anders.” Larson added. “He's always coming through in the clutch and he's just one of those guys you can count on.”
The Sound Tigers play in Providence Friday and Worcester Saturday before a 3 p.m. home game against the St. John’s IceCaps on Sunday.