North Okanagan Knights defenceman Lee Christensen is having a strong second season in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League in part thanks to improved fitness. North Okanagan Knights photo
Improved cardio has done wonders for Lee Christensen’s game.
The North Okanagan Knights defenceman is top-five in Kootenay International Junior Hockey League scoring among defenceman and his play earned a call-up to the B.C. Hockey League with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
Working as a firefighter on wildfires pushed Christensen’s cardio to another level.
“My cardio went through the roof,” says Christensen, who also works in construction during the season. “In past years, I have been more focused on weight training”
Now the Vernon product feels he has a leg up on everybody. Taking on wildfires requires a lot of hiking and long hours, which he said was hard on his body.
On the ice, his improved conditioning has led to more points averaging a point-per-game and Christensen has only been held off the scoresheet in five games.
“Getting called up to play with the Silverbacks was a huge bonus. It’s been a pretty good start,” he says. “Had a few off games in there, but I think I’m starting to get back on the right pace.”
Playing three games with the Silverbacks was “a super awesome experience” for him.
“It showed me what the difference is between our level and that level,” he says. “It’s a completely different game. Just the way that they execute plays. Everything happens at a high speed. It was really fun and neat to see.”
Being with the Silverbacks gave Christensen a confidence boost because he saw that he can play at that level, plus he impressed the junior A club.
After returning to the Knights, everything seems slowed down to him. Knights head coach Dean McAmmond has talked to Christensen about different things, including game awareness. They have discussed not being overaggressive, but also when to be aggressive. It’s about being aware of all options and broadening his focal point. McAmmond wants him aware of the simple things that can make him good, but also simple things that he does that distract from success.
An area Christensen is focused on is his skating.
“That has always been one of the things I struggle with,” he says. “With Dean McAmmond as our coach, he has been helping me, giving me little pointers in practice. It will bring my game up a lot.”
McAmmond sees a difference in his newest assistant captain and part of that comes from a focus on how he wants the team to play.
“He is a big (six-feet, 180-pounds) strong kid. He shoots the puck pretty good,” says McAmmond. “Just playing a simple game and getting some chances and finishing some plays. We have been trying to play a team game and he kind of benefited from a bit of that.”
McAmmond knows as the Knights get better, the players will benefit from playing a little bit better, structured hockey.
“In Lee’s case, I think that gives a bit of a platform to cash in on some points and some chances,” he says. “We got on a little bit of a role.”
His play and that of the Knights has him motivated to stay at or near the top of defenceman scoring.
When asked about his point production, Christensen is surprised. Growing up, he wasn’t a big point producer until his second year in a league. Last season as a rookie with the Knights, he collected three assists in 29 games.