Ryan Lee Among the Game's Elite After Career-Best Season


Pat Coyle knew Ryan Lee had this in him. The Colorado head coach was aware when the Mammoth selected him up in the third round back in the 2017 National Lacrosse League Draft that they had snagged a steal.

After all, he’d seen it up close.

“When I was coaching junior lacrosse, we were playing in the Minto [Cup],” Coyle said. “He played against us, and he was one of the reasons we lost. In some really big games, Ryan scored some big goals against us. When we went into the draft there, I knew we were lucky to get him at that point.”

Now Lee is the backbone of a Mammoth offense looking to punch its ticket to the NLL Cup.

Lee, in his fourth NLL season, is in the midst of a career year. His 119 points and 85 assists in the regular season both ranked second in the league. He was one point away from doubling his previous career high, and if it weren’t for Buffalo’s Dhane Smith setting a new single-season assist record with 94 this year, Lee would hold that record, too.

“I was hoping that I was going to beat my previous year, but I didn’t expect to double it,” Lee said. “I’m obviously really happy about that. It’s a great personal accomplishment for myself, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the team and if we get that win. It’s kind of do-or-die going forward in the playoffs. We have to win as an offense and as a team if we want to keep rolling.”

Thankfully for Colorado, his personal accolades have correlated with team success. Most recently, he put up a league-best 10 points in the quarterfinal round to help his Mammoth to a 16-12 victory against the Calgary Roughnecks. Colorado starts a best-of-three series with the San Diego Seals Friday night at 10 p.m. Eastern largely because he’s developed into one of the best facilitators in the NLL.

“He’s becoming a better teammate,” Coyle said. “Before, not in a bad way, but he thought he had to do it for us to be successful. He had to go score. Now he’s sort of realizing it doesn’t matter who scores. Some of the times what’s going to make us really good is if he draws the attention and passes and someone else scores. That humility in a quote-unquote superstar is really important.”

Lee, a former Division III player at RIT, has progressed in each season he’s played in Colorado. He was used sparingly as a rookie, totaling 11 points in six games, before finishing second on the team with 59 points when he became a regular in 2019. He finished with 60 points in 13 games in 2020, on pace for 83 for the season, before the campaign was shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.

He's taken a step into an elite echelon this season, which he credits to more experience in the league. He’s also working with arguably the deepest offense Colorado has deployed since he arrived, benefitting from the addition of players like Zed Williams, Connor Robinson and Tyson Gibson to a group that already included Eli McLaughlin and Chris Wardle.

“Last year, Ryan might have gotten three [goals] and one [assist],” Coyle said. “This year, he’s going to go two and six.”

Sometimes, he’ll do even better. That was especially the case when he suited up against the Vancouver Warriors. On January 7, Lee totaled 12 points on a pair of goals and 10 assists in Colorado’s 18-15 victory. He was involved in all but one of the team’s eight goals in the second half.

On March 18, Lee bested that performance with 13 points, scoring once and dishing out 12 helpers. He was responsible for the primary assist on McLaughlin’s overtime goal to secure a 17-16 triumph against Vancouver.

Both Lee and Coyle typically discover just how impactful he was once the game comes to an end.

“I don’t know exactly the numbers when I’m playing, but I definitely know I was passing the ball a lot, especially those two games,” Lee said. “A guy will come up to me in the locker room after and be like, ‘Yeah, you had 10 or 12 assists.’”

“Really, it isn’t until you read the game sheet,” Coyle said. “There are a few times in the game where you’re like, ‘What a pass. What a play that was.’ Usually it’s a couple of those, maybe two or three that stick out. Then you read the game sheet and you’re like, ‘Man, he was on every goal that we scored.”

Lee had two goals and eight assists in last week’s game against the Riggers, with three assists and a goal coming in a 4-0 run that put the Mammoth ahead for good in the early stages of the fourth quarter.

The win brought great relief to the franchise, which has historically struggled with Calgary in the postseason. Prior to last weekend, the Roughnecks had won 10 of the teams’ 11 postseason matchups.

“There were guys in the locker room after the game that have been here for eight, 10 years saying that they’ve never beat Calgary or that it’s been seven-plus years,” Lee said. “Coming out of that game, we were definitely riding high and we were really happy with our performance.”

That vindication is in the rearview mirror now, though. Colorado understands it has its hands full against top-seeded San Diego, which won two of three in the regular season series.

“I think there’s maybe a fear that that [win against Calgary] was what we needed to get by and the rest is sort of gravy,” Coyle said. “I hope we have that same sort of anxious almost dread that we had going into last game. We need to play our best game.”


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