There will always be that sour taste lingering for New York Islanders captain Anders Lee when talking about the end of the 2021 NHL season — on that saw his team advance to a second-straight Stanley Cup semifinal without him on the ice after suffering a season-ending ACL injury in March.
“It was really hard to not be able to be on the ice with your team,” Lee said on Thursday. “It’s tough when you’re going through recovery at the same time. But the boys, we all took on that challenge and the way they played on the ice was extremely inspiring to me. We both fed off each other… it was a good run.”
With that run firmly behind them and sights set even higher heading into the 2021-22 campaign, the captain is back with his team at full tilt.
“It’s just continuing on my rehab and my progress here,” Lee said after he finished practice at the Islanders’ first day of training camp. “It’s great to have camp to be able to do that. Just taking it day by day.
“The restrictions are off, everything’s good. Just making sure we take a look at everything and get ready for Game 1.”
Lee returns to a different-looking first line after the Islanders lost Jordan Eberle to the Seattle Kraken at the expansion draft. Kyle Palmieri is expected to slot into his place on the right-wing.
However, star center Mathew Barzal was plenty happy to get his left-winger in Lee back on the ice to prepare for a new season.
“It’s relieving having him back, buzzing around, and even looking faster than last year,” Barzal said. “He looks great… right back to normal. Relieving for our group and organization.”
Now comes the tricky part of trying to navigate the Islanders up over that next step — a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
“We’ve continued to build each year and I think we’re going into this season doing the same,” Lee said. “We’re familiar with one another and everyone. We have some new faces and it’s great to get those guys integrated and start this journey. Day 1 of camp, there’s always anticipation, always a touch of nerves.”