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High school hockey in Florida is still considered a club sport, played in just a few pockets of the state.
But those who play in the Tampa Bay area will be in hockey nirvana Wednesday with the first Lightning Conference all-star game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. That game will be followed by the conference championship between East Lake and Mitchell.
Club high school hockey has been around in the area about 10 years with two competing leagues. Three years ago, the leagues merged to form the Florida High School Hockey Association (also known as the Lightning Conference), which is now comprised of 18 teams.
Games are televised locally on cable. There is a state championship and a national tournament. Most state colleges also now offer the sport at the club level.
It wasn’t until this season, though, that an all-star matchup was included.
“These kids do not get a varsity letter because they’re still at the club level,” said Tim Madden, vice president and committee co-chair for the Florida amateur board of USA Hockey. “But the all-star game is a big deal for us. It’s a sign of how much the sport has grown.”
Two players from each team were selected by their club coaches for the all-star game, which will be coached by former Lightning stars Dave Andreychuk and Brian Bradley. (They also selected the goaltenders.)
The players picked from East Lake and Mitchell, the teams in the conference final, will not play in the all-star game. The championship game was part of an eight-team, single-elimination tournament that started Feb. 8.
The games tonight kick off a banner month for club hockey in the state. East Lake and Newsome were selected to compete in the Tier I state playoffs with a chance to play in the USA Hockey National High School championships in Coral Springs in May.
Tier I teams are considered pure club programs with players all from the same school. There also will be a Tier II championship that includes Jesuit, Mitchell and Palm Harbor University.
“This is the first time the high school national is being held in Florida,” Madden said. “It’s a great time for youth hockey in the state.”
Lightning Conference all-star game
When: Wednesday, 5:45
Where: Tampa Bay Times Forum
Team Andreychuk: Berkeley Prep — Alex Fishman, Dawson Newman; East Lake — Zane Katz, Austin Teall, David Johnson; Gaither/Sickles — Zach Koepsell, Matt Peckham; Jesuit — Samuel Coleman, Sean Murray, Will Polmear; Lakeland George Jenkins — Nick Marolda, Joseph Mortillaro; Palm Harbor University — Joshua Ovitt, Hunter Sheehan, Joseph Whyte; Sarasota — Jesse Bafia, Brendan Nicholson; Seminole — Karaig Gordon, VJ Wicklen; Wiregrass Ranch — Tyler Dausch, Kurt Williams
Team Bradley: Bloomingdale — Bailey Jorgensen, Brian Springer; Durant — Nick Nappi, Clint Walden; Freedom — Jimmy Jones, Tommy Kilker, Brenden Rogers; Mitchell — Evan Lugo, Reed Nichols, Joey Robison; Newsome — Chris Adams, Brandon Goudreau; Plant — Ben Sisemore, Hunter Whitlock; River Ridge — Lukas Medo, Troy Padova, Keagan Royer; Steinbrenner — Toby Hase, Greg Zielinski; Wharton — Julian Baron-Clarke, Jackson Widell
Lightning Cup Final
When: Wednesday, 7:30
Where: Times Forum
Teams: East Lake vs. Mitchell, conference championship game