Making it big: Two Cougars go pro
By Dan Khavkin, Sports Editor
A pair of graduating fourth-year Mount Royal Cougars hockey players moved onto the professional level after the conclusion of the Canada West season that saw MRU fall short in overtime of game three of the quarter-finals.
Defenceman Jesse Lees and forward Chris Gerrie became the 13th and 14th Mount Royal players to move onto the pro ranks after serving time with the Cougars.
Lees inked his first professional contract with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays who are the minor league affiliate of the Washington Capitals, while Gerrie signed with the Wichita Thunder who are the East Coast affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.
Both players enjoyed unique roads to pro during their time at MRU.
Calgary native Lees had been a hot-commodity in the pro-hockey market since before getting recruited by the Cougars back in 2016/2017.
In 95 Canada West games, Lees put up 79 points including 34 goals for the Cougars.
Lees was named to the Canada West all-rookie team while getting recognized on the national level getting called to the USPORTS all-rookie team after putting up 20 points through his first 28 university games.
He followed up the brilliant rookie campaign with the Cougars by smashing the record for defenceman scoring when he put up 25 points points through 26 games, including 11 goals.
Lees was then named to a Canada West first-team all-star.
“The thing is, you have to perform at pro. That’s what we take pride in as Cougar Hockey. I’m not an agent for the guys to get an opportunity to play a pro game. We want you to be ready to play and be impactful,” Cougars head coach Bert Gilling notes.
That, Lees did.
In just his second professional game with the Stingrays, Lees secured his Stingrays two points that went along with a playoff berth when he wired a wrist shot during a 6-5 win.
Picture the moment: It’s a 3v3 overtime situation and the ECHL leading South Carolina Stingrays have a guy from Mount Royal University who on his third day with the team, is taking the ice in overtime in a game-winning situation… and delivers.
“Jesse wasn’t treated like a 6th or 7th defenceman sitting on the end of the bench. They caught on very quickly that this guy can play,” Gilling says.
“Moments like that are why we were prideful from our staff and Cougar Hockey program. That’s why we do this type of training and hold these practises. That’s why going to school, instilling that discipline and maturing makes them that much more ready for pro compared to being a 20-year-old out of junior hockey.”
Steve Bergin, director of hockey operations and head coach of the ECHL leading South Carolina Stingrays says: “With his resume, we knew that’s a guy you couldn’t pass on.
“Anytime you can add a guy like that of his caliber, you have to pull the trigger on him.”
Lees did not have to drop out of classes despite leaving campus out of nowhere. At the time of this interview, he was Skyping his class before having to submit projects and midterms online later this week.
Gerrie on the other hand, joined the Cougars as one of the most experienced players in the dressing room despite the fact he entered campus as a winter semester transfer in 2017-18.
Prior to his collegiate career, Gerrie played two seasons for the AJHL’s Olds Grizzlys. Gerrie racked up 115 points (43G, 72A) in 119 games during his two seasons with the Grizzlys before committing Michigan Tech. He then headed to the BCHL’s Penticton Vees. Gerrie potted 42 points (16G, 26A) in 56 games for the Vees.
Gerrie was named as the AJHL and CJHL Rookie of the Year in 2013-14 and helped Michigan Tech to a WCHA Championship in 2016-17.
He registered 46 points (19G, 27A) in 68 games for the Cougars.
MRU’s education and reputation for smaller class sizes were additional benefits that convinced Edmonton native Gerrie that Mount Royal was his perfect fit both on and off the ice.
Mount Royal has only been competing in USPORTS for eight years now. So to bring an impactful NCAA DI transfer like Gerrie meant a lot to the growth of the Cougar Hockey culture at the time, according to Gilling.
“He came from that environment, so he blended with our guys and helped push the culture… he made us better.”
Coach Gilling and Gerrie were speaking the same language upon recruitment.
Gilling, who has nearly two decades of NCAA DI coaching experience, helped facilitate the perfect marriage between Cougar Hockey and Gerrie.
“He made the whole transition easier and helped me get more confident. It meant a lot at the time,” Gerrie says.
Gilling adds: “When I was saying we want to ‘build on-and-off-the ice like a division one program,’ he knew exactly what I was talking about. I needed people who understood that culture and who can lead and show the players what that meant and to spread those ideals through the locker room. Chris accelerated that for us.”
Gerrie saw the opportunities Mount Royal offered on the ice and took full advantage of them, according to Gilling.
“He was very coachable. He watched film, talked to coaches… he went to work every single day and that’s reflective in his game,” he notes. “He accepted any role we gave him which was a gift for us. It showcased his versatility which made him an attractive player for Wichita.”
“I came to USPORTS at the perfect time. You see the league growing and a lot more guys are turning pro,” Gerrie says.