TAMPA — East Lake senior forward Austin Teall has made a habit of saving his best performances for the Lightning Conference Cup Finals.
Last season, Teall was named Most Valuable Player after leading the Eagles to their first Cup championship.
On Wednesday, Teall scored two goals, including the winner, to help East Lake repeat as champion in a 3-1 victory over Mitchell at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“It’s a really, really excellent feeling,” Teall said. “It’s indescribable to come out and play so well.”
With the score tied at 1 and just more than seven minutes remaining in the final period, Teall redirected a shot from teammate Zane Katz past Mitchell goaltender Michael Napoli for the go-ahead goal.
“I was really hoping that (Katz) would make the right move and throw it on net because I was crashing the net really hard looking for a rebound or a tip-in,” Teall said.
After a scoreless first period, Mitchell opened the scoring with 5:08 to go in the second when sophomore forward Evan Lugo fought his way between two defenders and backhanded a shot toward the net that snuck between the legs of East Lake goaltender David Johnson.
East Lake answered three minutes later. Teall took a shot from the right wing that struck the skate of a Mitchell defenseman and slipped into the goal. Teall’s tying score was the culmination of more than a minute of sustained pressure on the Mitchell net that resulted in a handful of scoring chances before Teall capitalized.
“We were starting to wonder what we had to do to get one in there,” East Lake coach Jim Anna said. “We just kept putting pucks on net. We finally got a bounce, and one went in. Once we got that first goal, we never looked back. I thought we had momentum and carried play the rest of the game.”
East Lake sophomore forward Michael Kovacs scored on a rebound with 4:45 remaining to seal the Eagles’ second title in a row.
“We really wanted to repeat and prove that we’re the dominant team in this league,” Teall said.
Johnson, a junior netminder for East Lake, was named Finals MVP after shutting down Mitchell after the Mustangs’ opening score.
Team Bradley prevails: For a nearly a period and a half, the first Lightning Conference All-Star Game, played before the Cup championship, resembled a grind-it-out defensive battle rather than a showcase of offensive talent.
The pace picked up considerably midway through the second period.
Team Bradley and Team Andreychuk, coached by former Tampa Bay Lightning greats Brian Bradley and Dave Andreychuk, combined for five goals in four minutes to ignite the Forum scoreboard.
When the dust settled, Team Bradley had a 4-2 lead and would go on to win 6-2 behind a two-goal performance from Steinbrenner’s Greg Zielinski.
“I told my teammate Toby Hase I had to get on the highlight reel somehow,” said Zielinski, a junior forward. “He helped me out on one of my goals so it was really nice to share that with him.”
Durant’s Clint Walden produced the only goal of the first period to put Team Bradley up 1-0. Team Andreychuk’s Brendan Nicholson, a forward from Sarasota High, tied the score with 9:59 remaining in the second period. Zielinski put Team Bradley back in front with his first goal at 9:06 in the second period, and just three seconds later, Freedom’s Jimmy Jones gave Team Bradley a two-goal lead.
Wharton teammates Jackson Widell and Julian Baron-Clarke also scored for Team Bradley. Team Andreychuk’s second goal came from Sarasota forward Jesse Bafia.
Miscellany: Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier dropped the ceremonial first puck before the Lightning Conference Cup Finals. … East Lake is the second school to capture the Cup championship in the four-year history of the tournament, joining Manatee High as two-time winners.
Photo credit: Casey Brooke photography