In what could become an “instant classic” Championship Game, the undefeated (22-0) Mitchell Mustangs withstood a late Manatee Admirals (19-2-1) goal and a furious push with the extra attacker to win the inaugural Lightning High School Hockey League (LHSHL) Lightning Cup on Saturday night, February 13 by a final score of 4-3.
In front of an estimated Amalie Arena crowd of 3,380 and with the game being televised live on Bright House Sports Network, the teams played a scoreless first period despite the Mustangs outshooting the Admirals 11 to 5 on the frame.
Things heated up in the second period as Mitchell’s Nathan Smith was finally able to get one past stalwart Admirals’ goalie, Dominik Tmaj (the Moe’s LHSHL Goalie of the Month for October) at the 2:17 mark. Smith’s goal was assisted by Bryant Robbins and Lucas Sowder.
The Mustangs struck again less than four minutes later when Joshua Corrow scored with assists going to Lucas Sowder and Nathan Smith. Time of the goal was 6:08.
With it appearing Manatee might go into the locker room down two at the second intermission break, the Admirals found the back of the net at the 12:34 mark of the period as Ian Deckard scored on the Power Play. Smith was whistled for roughing at 11:36, and less than a minute later Deckard converted on assists from Will Lynch and Tyler Knight.
Energized by the marker, and with its vociferous crowd back in the game, the Admirals struck again less than a minute later to tie the game at 2-2. David Tmej, brother of Manatee goalie, Dominik Tmej, scored at 13:32 with the lone assist going to Carson LaPort.
The stunning turn of events quieted the Mitchell faithful and set the stage for what everyone expected to be an exciting third period. Shots at the end of two were 22 to 9 in favor of Mitchell, yet the score was deadlocked.
The Mustangs acted quickly in the third period to dispel any notion the two quick Manatee goals late in the second had put them on their heels. Just :17 into the final frame Mitchell’s Nathan Smith scored his second goal of the game, this time unassisted.
Mitchell tacked on another goal, short-handed, at 2:56 of the third period to restore the Mustangs’ lead to two goals. With teammate Lucas Sowder in the box for holding, Zach Harrison rifled one home with assists to Smith (his fourth point of the game) and Corrow (his second point of the game).
Demonstrating the never give up attitude they displayed all season, the defending Lightning Cup Champion Admirals pressed in the final third of the period, eventually getting one goal back at 10:51 to close the gap to just one goal. Defenseman Peter Morgan notched the marker with assists going to David Tmej and Carson LaPort (for each player their second point of the game).
With goalie Dominik Tmej on the bench for the extra attacker the Admirals pushed to tie the game. However, the Mitchell defense was solid, and Mustangs goaltender, Jacob Serpe, made several big saves to help preserve the win. For the game Mitchell outshot the Admirals 30 to 15.
As the players from both teams lined-up at center ice for the traditional post-game handshake, the players and fans were treated to an exciting surprise as Tampa Bay Lightning Vice President and General Manager, and Hockey Hall of Famer, Steve Yzerman, made his way onto the ice to award the Championship Trophy and Medals to the Player.
Lightning Executive Director of Community Hockey Development, Jay Feaster, first awarded the Tyler Dobies Memorial MVP plaque to Mitchell’s Nathan Smith, who had two goals and two assists in the championship effort.
With both teams qualifying for the SAHOF State Championship Tournament the weekend of February 20-21, Yzerman made it a point to wish each player and coach the best of luck as they represent high school hockey from the Tampa Bay region.
Mitchell’s road to the Championship Game included a first round bye, and then wins over East Lake and Seminole, while Manatee also enjoyed a first round bye, and then defeated Newsome and Wiregrass to punch their ticket to the Final.
Good luck to all LHSHL teams (Jesuit, Newsome, Manatee and Mitchell) in the SAHOF State Playoffs!