In March of 2016, the JW Mitchell Mustangs earned the honor to represent the state of Florida at the USA High School Hockey National Championships in Ashburn, Virginia. The Mustangs then became the first Florida-based team to win a High School Hockey National title.
Now, as the 2016-2017 Lightning High School Hockey League enters its’ second season, JW Mitchell looked to take its’ first step towards repeating as champions after the club defeated the Steinbrenner Warriors by a final score of 6-0 on Friday, September 9, 2016.
The puck had officially dropped for another exciting year of LHSHL at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar, and the Mustangs didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard either. David Hawkins (No. 36) opened up the scoring for JW Mitchell with a deflection in front of Steinbrenner’s net two minutes into the first period. Assists were credited to Jon Heller (No. 43) and Tyler Gray (No. 97). Hawkins later added another goal in the third period, and finished the contest with three points overall.
JW Mitchell head coach Ralph Sowder wanted his team to focus on “working off the puck, both defensively and offensively.” It would appear that Sowder’s players did just that, especially considering the former National Champions had outshot Steinbrenner 30-10 by night’s end.
However, Sowder left an impression that there was still room for improvement regardless of what the scoreboard portrayed.
“We struggled a little bit. We were missing a few guys, and on top of that for the first time in my coaching career we have all right-handed shooters. So, a lot of our players are playing new positions, or their off-wing; it’s a difficult thing for them to adapt to, but we’ll get there,” said Sowder.
Sure, Shawn Terry (No. 21) didn’t record a point in the victory, but the JW Mitchell coaching staff made it clear they admired his overall performance on the ice and his “play away from the puck.”
Mustangs’ Jack Mazur (No. 95) had an impressive performance as well. Mazur recorded two goals and chipped in two helpers to lead JW Mitchell with four points on the night.
It’s never fun to open up a season with a loss, but Steinbrenner Warriors head coach Dan Bubley expressed the defeat was a “learning experience.”
“The positive is that it’s only game one,” said Bubley. “We can only get better and I’m going to learn who can compete. I can learn who can compete even though we were down four or five goals and who’s still giving it their all out there each and every shift.”
Though, the play between the pipes for Steinbrenner cannot go unnoted. Netminder Gavin Williams (No. 30) weathered the Mustangs’ ongoing offensive pressure by stopping 14 of 16 shots through the first two periods of play.
Both coaching staffs agreed on one notable point during the postgame, which was that it’s a “long season...”