Anders Lee called it “definitely a must-win,” not so much because the Islanders hope to still be in the playoff race by then or because of a chance to avenge Saturday night’s 7-0 rout by the Blue Jackets.
Those things also are true, but the reason he has circled the March 18 game against Columbus at Barclays Center is a victory that afternoon would foster a more positive vibe for the event he is hosting afterward.
“The guys would be a little more excited to do it, absolutely,” he said, smiling, as he looked toward an unusual fundraiser for which he enlisted teammates’ help — help that will require sticking around after the game.
The event is called Anders Lee Kancer Jam, in which fans who have raised at least $2,000 and Islanders players will compete in a tournament of the game KanJam to raise money to fight pediatric cancer.
More details about that later. The larger story is that at 26, Lee, one of the hottest goal-scorers in the NHL since Thanksgiving, is emerging as an increasingly visible face of the team on the ice and off.
He was drafted in 2009, joined the Islanders in 2013, and now is a youngish veteran and a star of the team’s Guys-Other-Than-John Tavares Division, helping fill a void created when Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin left last offseason.
“It’s a position that you kind of grow into, and I’ve been here a little bit now,” said Lee, whose 23 goals are tied with Tavares for the team lead. “When you have that kind of absence [from the departed trio], the following year guys need to step up. We’ve had a lot of guys do that.
“If that ends up happening [for me], that’s great. I’ve been a captain at school and it’s a position I’m comfortable with, for sure, but we have a lot of good guys in that locker room. Being one of them is great.”
Lee, who grew up in suburban Minneapolis and attended Notre Dame, sees community work as part of that role.
“I wanted to be well-rounded and didn’t want to be just a hockey player,” he said. “We have an opportunity in whatever your career window is to do good.”
That led him to an organization called “Jam Kancer in the Kan,” which uses the game KanJam, in which players try to land a flying disc into a can — with assorted rules wrinkles — as a fundraising vehicle.
“It’s a good backyard game and something where everyone can throw a Frisbee for the most part, and it’s not six-hour golf tournament type of thing,” Lee said.
The Islanders play among themselves at their facility, so Lee has scouting reports on many teammates. Josh Bailey is the star. “Bailey is legit; he’s a ringer,” Lee said. “But there are some guys I’m concerned about, for sure.”
Lee said he was moved to act by the team’s annual hospital visits and encounters there with children fighting cancer, including at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.
The 32-team tournament will include pairings of fans and players. Fans can use the funding site CrowdRise to solicit donations from friends, family or businesses.
“They’ve been supportive,” Lee said of Islanders fans. “They’ve been through a lot, and we’ve climbed out into a good spot here in the last month and a half.
“So this event, too, is a great way for me and the rest of my team to connect with fans and get to know them better. I just think as a group — the team, the organization and the fans — we can do some good things.”