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Published March 29 2012

Phoenix Coyotes sign former Force goalie Lee to entry-level contract

FARGO – There was no epiphany, but Mike Lee just knew it was his time.

The former Fargo Force goaltender on Thursday decided to forgo his senior year at St. Cloud State to sign with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Lee, 21, signed a three-year contract with the team. He will report to the Coyotes’ camp next season, he said.

He becomes the first former player in the Force’s four-year history to sign a professional contract.

“It was the right time to get into this organization,” Lee said. “This is the organization that drafted me and believes in me.”

Lee was drafted by the Coyotes in 2009 in the third round with the 91st overall pick.

Lee’s junior season was shortened by a lower-body injury he suffered in November.

He returned this season, finishing the year with an 8-6-2 record, a 2.23 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.

“I just had to get it fixed and deal with it,” Lee said of the injury. “After that it was about working your tail off to get back in there.”

Lee played 74 games with the Huskies in three seasons, going 32-29-9 with a 2.59 GAA and a .919 save percentage.

He was also a team captain and a two-time All-WCHA academic selection in 2011 and 2012.

During his freshman year, Lee represented Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championships, winning a gold medal.

He went 4-0 and had the tournament’s third-best save percentage.

“Mike had a tremendous career here at St. Cloud State and has played a key role in the success of our program over the past three seasons,” Huskies coach Bob Motzko said in a statement. “Mike’s skills and play-making abilities placed him among the best in college hockey, and he will certainly be remembered as one of the premier goalies in the history of the Husky hockey program at St. Cloud State.”

Lee rose to prominence in the 2006-07 season as a high school sophomore at Roseau.

He split time but got the start in the state title game, getting a victory in a 5-1 win over Grand Rapids, giving the school its seventh and most recent state championship.

In his junior season, he went an 27-2 with a 1.10 GAA, a .936 save percentage and 12 shutouts in 29 games that season. He only allowed 32 goals, but Roseau suffered a semifinal loss to Hill-Murray in the state tournament, finishing fourth.

Lee walked away from the state’s most storied program in what would have been his senior year to play for the Force.

Lee went 26-15-4 with a 2.40 GAA and .918 save percentage, helping Fargo reach the Clark Cup Finals, where it lost in the final round.

“I thought about it for a couple of weeks and just like any other major decision you weigh both ends of it,” Lee said of signing with the Coyotes. “You decide what is best for your life. My family and I thought about it and decided this was a great opportunity.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found at slightlychilled.areavoices.com