East Lake High School of Tarpon Springs, Florida is not only known for having one the best Academy of Engineering programs in the Nation, but the East Lake Eagles have also established a successful ice hockey tradition in recent memory, too. Senior forward Nickolas Belanger, of the Lightning High School Hockey League, happens to be involved with two of these successful programs that the Tampa Bay area has to offer.
Not only is Belanger a member with both programs, but he’s excelled in each; especially on the ice with the Eagles in the LHSHL. The six-foot forward has played the past three seasons for the Blue and White, while recording an impressive 110 career points and counting. So far, East Lake’s leading goal scorer from last season has only had his point totals increase each passing season (46 – 2016; 55 – 2017).
While the forward is known for being a “quiet leader,” and a humble player, his Head Coach at East Lake knew Belanger would be something special and from day one.
“I was really excited when Nick joined our team (his sophomore year),” said Head Coach Jim Anna.
“I had played hockey with his dad in the past, so I knew he had a really good hockey sense. I knew that he was going to be a good player in the league,” added Anna.
Hugo Belanger, Nickolas’ father, played Semi-Professional Hockey and is a key reason why the Eagles’ engineer on the ice is the type of skater that he is today.
“Of course, I have those memories of being at the big rinks (arenas) and the (dad’s) games,” said Belanger when asked what his earliest memories of hockey were. “I remember the whole feeling of being in the crowd and watching him, and I wanted to be in his position.”
There’s no doubting that the youngster is a class act, and a team-first player too.
“Although he’s quiet, he’s always working hard and he’s very unselfish on the ice,” added Anna. “I think those things, alone, and the fact that he gets a lot of points -- are big reasons why all of the players look up to him.”
Coach Anna also added how Belanger had stood out and separated himself from past East Lake skaters.
“He always shows up to play. In the 17 years that I’ve been there (East Lake) he’s one of the more consistent players that I’ve had, which is one of the biggest things that resonate for me.”
“He’s just well composed with everything he does, and he’s obviously a very good student, as well,” added Anna.
One of Belanger’s travel coaches, Steve Nickel of the Tampa Scorpions, also acknowledged his player’s studious characteristics.
“One item that I learned more recently about Nick is, not only is he a great kid and a good hockey player, but he is a very good student. Finding young men with all of these characteristics is not always that easy,” said Nickel.
After Belanger graduates from East Lake this spring, he plans on attending a university next fall and will pursue one of his favorite subjects.
Belanger Earns Player Of The Month
“Math. My favorite subject is, math,” said Belanger. “I’m far ahead in that so far, and will probably go to college for a type of engineering, too. I’m just good with numbers and it comes easy to me.”
Speaking of numbers, the Eagles center made a smart choice by selecting “91” to wear as his hockey number, long ago. But, it’s not because of the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s team captain, Steven Stamkos, dons that number.
“I actually wear number 91, because it’s what my dad wore when he played,” added Belanger. “I know a lot of people probably think it’s because of Stamkos, but it’s because of my dad.”
“Like his father,” Belanger is not only a “look to pass-first type of player,” but a team-first player too. Belanger was one of the top point-getters last season for the LHSHL, while recording 30 assists and was only penalized twice all of last season. Two penalties for a player that sees a good amount of ice-time is impressive and appreciated, right?
“Nick is a great teammate and an extremely ‘coachable’ young man; it has been a pleasure to coach Nick and watch him grow over the last three years,” added Nickel. “I have had the pleasure of not only watching his game develop, he played AA Travel Hockey last year while becoming one of the scoring leaders for High School Hockey; but more importantly his character and maturity level. He is a pleasure to be around, and every coach would love to have more than a few players like Nick on their team. Nick is not one of the most outspoken kids, but he definitely leads by example.”
As much as Belanger’s High School Hockey coaches and teammates have enjoyed his presence, he spoke highly of the hockey niche he’s found here in Tampa.
“Hockey has taught me to make great relationships with the friends that you have. And not try to make as many friends as you can, and be friends with a good group of people,” spoke a confident Belanger. “So that you can have that group for the entire time that you’re around, and that they can always be there for you and to support you.”
Yes, Belanger has been enjoying life in the Sunshine State, while establishing good relationships with his hockey teammates and coaches, but the playmaker also has fond memories of playing hockey outdoors and in Saratoga Springs, New York.
“Every winter we made a rink in our backyard. Sometimes, at night, we would skate outside and find a big light. It was fun to just be able to be and go out there with friends even though they weren’t the best skaters,” said a smiling Belanger.
Hockey has always been in Belanger’s life in some sort of way, and more than likely always will be. His final words of his interview should come to no surprise when Belanger was asked “what he wanted to be remembered for” after his senior season comes to an end this spring.
“The guy who always made the pass, first…”
(The Lightning High School Hockey League can be followed on Twitter @TBLHSHL)