The 2018 Lightning High School Hockey League Playoffs (LHSHL) will begin on Wednesday, February 7, and eight teams from all four divisions are in action. Two games will be played at the Clearwater Ice Arena (CIA) and the Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex. The two and three seeds from each division will face-off to have an opportunity at advancing to the second-round (Divisional Finals) on Friday, February 9, to play a division’s respective team that finished in first place.
(3) PALM HARBOR VS (2) SEMINOLE
The Palm Harbor Hurricanes and Seminole Sharks will take to the ice at CIA for a 6:30pm puck drop to open up the 2018 LHSHL Playoffs. Last week, the two Lecavalier Division rivals faced-off for the third and final time during the regular season at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy (TBSA), where the Sharks completed the season-series sweep over the ‘Canes (11-5 final score).
The Teal have the league’s leading goal-scorer in senior forward Zach Katz (54G-17A –71pts), and have the dynamic Maxx Mitchell on the team’s blue line who will look to lead the Sharks and pursue the road to Amalie Arena come Friday, February 16. Keep in mind that Seminole lost last year in the Conference Finals to the LHSHL’s eventual champion in the Mitchell Mustangs – perhaps this is the Teal’s year…
Senior forward Garrett Toenjes will look to embrace the moment and help Palm Harbor pull off an upset against the Sharks come Wednesday night. Toenjes recorded seven goals and four assists in just three games played against the Sharks this season, and the ‘Canes will need him more than ever in a single elimination playoff game. The Hurricanes started Duncan Willis in the team’s last outing vs Seminole, but Palm Harbor may turn to Jaeger Lush to stand tall between the pipes and pull off the upset.
The winner of this matchup will advance to play Plant on Friday, February 9, for a 9:00pm start at Florida Hospital Center Ice.
(3) MITCHELL VS (2) RIVER RIDGE
It’s no secret…
The Mitchell Mustangs are the two-time defending LHSHL Champions and are looking for the three-peat. Mitchell won the season series by taking two out of the three games played between the two during the regular season, but did lose the last matchup 7-3 back on December 15, 2017. However, Mitchell has the necessary depth for a team to make another run at the Lightning Cup, and have strong goaltending with both Jacob Serpe and Jason Capelo. Mitchell forward, Nicholas DeMiceli, recorded seven goals and one assist in just two games played against River Ridge this season, so DeMiceli should be a key factor in the outcome for this Bradley Division showdown.
The River Ridge Knights will have the first chance at taking down the two-time defending champions. Senior captain Anthony Lioacano will look to rally and lead his Knights in what could pan out to be the night’s most exciting matchup. If Jacob Schapp is in the lineup – he may be a main reason as to why the Mustangs don’t three-peat this season; as number 12 for the Knights found the back of the net twice in River Ridge’s last contest against Mitchell. Though, the Knights have one of the league’s top netminders in Daniel McCarthy; who always gives River Ridge a shot to win no matter who the opponent may be.
Mitchell vs. River Ridge will be played at CIA for an 8:00pm puck drop. The winner of this matchup will advance to play East Lake on Friday, February 9, for a 7:30pm start at Florida Hospital Center Ice.
(3) JENKINS VS (2) WIREGRASS
Ellenton will play the role of host for two LHSHL Playoff games, where the first matchup will take place between the George-Jenkins Eagles and Wiregrass Ice Hawks for an 8:45pm puck drop. The two teams went 1-1-1 against each other this past season, and the contest also marks the Eagles first playoff game in two years.
Jenkins may have struggled down the stretch, but senior Luke Rouleau will look to rally his troops and stir an early preview of March Madness. Keep in mind that Rouleau recorded two hat tricks in two games played vs Wiregrass during the regular season, but the Green and Gold will need more scoring help from other skaters. Additionally, it should be interesting to see who starts between the pipes for Jenkins; as either Cole Bonnano or Ryan Warchola will look to shut down Wiregrass’ Josey Davis.
Wiregrass advanced all the way to the Lightning Cup last season (lost to Mitchell), and senior forward Josey Davis will look to lead the Hawks back to Amalie later this month. In one game played against Jenkins this season, Davis recorded a hat trick, plus chipped in three assists. Wiregrass’ Matthew McGovern could pan out to be the game’s x-factor, as the junior assisted on a majority of Davis’ goals this past season.
The winner of this matchup will advance to play Jesuit on Friday, February 9, for a 7:00pm start at Florida Hospital Center Ice.
(3) DURANT VS (2) BLOOMINGDALE
Perhaps this game could end up going into overtime, or as far as a shootout round.
The Modin Division’s Durant Cougars and Bloomingdale Ice Bulls are set to take to the ice at Ellenton for a 7:15pm puck drop come Wednesday night. While Durant was in second place in the division for a majority of the regular season, the Cougars slipped down the three seed after the team’s season finale loss to East Lake last weekend. The two teams shared a 1-1-1 record against each other this season, and Durant’s Jordan Putnam recorded six goals in three games played versus Bloomingdale. While Putnam and goaltender Dillon Garasz shined for the Cougars all season, perhaps C.J. Comunale or Tanner Ksepka can play the role of playoff heroes come Wednesday night. The two teams last met on January 6, when the Bulls defeated Durant by a score of 4-1.
38 goals later, Bloomingdale’s Andrew Miranda enters the 2018 LHSHL Playoffs with a clean slate and will look to lead the Bulls past Durant and advance to the second-round of the playoffs. Miranda had four goals in three games played against Durant this season, but the team’s other leading goal scorer in Brennan Cyhaniuk, may pan out to be the deal breaker. Cyhaniuk recorded 40 points (26G-14A –40pts) during his rookie campaign, and number 72 for the Bulls will look to put a stamp on the LHSHL Playoffs early and often. Keep in mind that goaltender Alexander Higginbotham has been strong between the pipes all season for the Bulls, too.
The winner of this matchup will advance to play East Manatee on Friday, February 9, for a 8:30pm start at Florida Hospital Center Ice.
(The Lightning High School Hockey League can be followed on Twitter @TBLHSHL)