FARMERS BRANCH, Texas — Hockey players for many years have warmed up for games by kicking around a soccer ball. But an hour before Friday’s practice, several Islanders used a far less common form of cross-sport limbering up.
Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Okposo were among a group of players who took to the empty parking lot outside the Stars’ practice facility here carrying baseball mitts, then proceeded to have a catch.
“We were in Florida in the fall and we just got off the [excitement of the] October baseball swing, so we all had an extra day and went and bought mitts and warmed up that way,” Lee said, speaking of a trip in late November.
“It takes your mind off hockey, it warms the body up and you work on your hand-eye. And you bring back some old memories of playing baseball . . . The weather was nice [Friday]. You can get outside, get some space rather than break lights in the arenas down below.”
Lee is among the best all-around athletes on the Isles. He was a star quarterback and baseball player in high school in Minnesota and was considered a major-college prospect in football before he focused on hockey at Notre Dame.
Is he the best baseball player on the Islanders? “Oh, I’m not going to comment on that,” he said, laughing. “We all can throw the ball around.”
Lee played softball with the Islanders’ front-office team last summer and displayed his talents both at bat and in the field.
“That was pretty fun,” he said. “Any time they need a fill-in, I’m right there for them.”
Is Lee the best football player on the Islanders? “I think Kyle had a pretty good football career until he chose hockey,” Lee said.
Asked if he is as good as Lee at football, Okposo vigorously shook his head no.
Despite the foray into long toss in the parking lot, kicking a soccer ball and trying to keep it from hitting the ground promises to remain hockey players’ go-to warm-up routine.
“Obviously, it just kind of loosens you up, but you also have a good time doing it and put guys in tough spots, make them use their athleticism and get their hand-eye and their feet moving and handle the ball,” Lee said. “Can’t use your hands, obviously, so it forces you to work on skills you normally wouldn’t on the ice, and that will help you. It’s just a fun way to warm up, really. It’s a game every time. Guys have [competitive] enemies. It’s pretty fun.”