Ice hockey goaltenders are some of the most unique athletes in all of sports. There’s no doubting that. Also, there’s no doubting that a netminder needs to have a strong sense of competitiveness when they strap on the pads.
There’s no doubt that’s what the Lightning High School Hockey League’s (LHSHL) Mitchell Mustangs have had between the pipes for the past three seasons with senior goaltender, Jacob Serpe. In fact, the Mustangs have won back-to-back LHSHL Championships with Serpe at the helm in the blue paint, and have also won a High School Hockey National Championship too.
While Serpe is a true competitor, the seventeen-year old is still as calm as one can be, whether he’s on or off of the ice. If one watches Serpe play, those cool and calm characteristics are apparent in addition to both his humble and competitive style in net for Mitchell.
It’s always interesting to hear how an ice hockey goaltender first decides to strap on the pads and join the minority of skaters who decide to throw on a goaltender’s mask. For Serpe, the Mustangs’ masked man was not always a goalie while he was growing up and skating.
“I actually started out playing roller hockey and I was defense for a while; and then they (his team) needed a goalie, so I just got into goalie,” said Serpe while calmly nodding his head and shrugging his shoulders.
The decision was as easy as that, and the rest has been history for the Tampa native. From that point on the newcomer behind the mask began training with Professional Goaltending Coach, Ed Walsh. Serpe’s goaltending mentor in Walsh currently trains two NHL netminders, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, and Carter Hutton of the St. Louis Blues.
Quick’s mentor spoke highly of Serpe’s “athletic ability” and how much he’s progressed since the two teamed up six years ago.
“In the state of Florida, since I’ve been coaching, he’s in the top two-percent of all of the goalies I’ve ever trained,” said Walsh.
Walsh also explained why Serpe has always been impressive and a “unique” goaltender, especially in comparison to other skaters he’s worked with in the past.
“As technical as goaltending training is, and as hard as it is, he just always loved being there,” added Walsh. “He loved to work hard and get better, and he did; he’s a great athlete.”
Serpe stops River Ridge on an oddman rush (Photo Credit/Cindy Eccles)
Serpe’s coach also acknowledged other interesting attributes that Mitchell’s stud goaltender renders.
“When you get technical training on top of the athletic ability…they soar,” said Walsh with an assuring tone. “He’s become a much, much better technician of the game too.”
What does Coach Walsh mean by that?
“If a Golf Pro has a guy who works on their swing, and that’s what ‘they do,’ swing pattern; then multiply that by ’30 times,’ and that’s how hard it is to be effective as a goaltender.”
As challenging as goaltending “technically” is, it still doesn’t seem to faze Serpe. He approached the topic and question about the amount of “pressure” a netminder faces on a nightly basis, as if it was a walk in the park.
“I like being into the game and having all of the pressure on me,” smiled the five-foot-eleven goaltender.
While number “41” has embraced being a netminder over the years for a number of different teams, he’s also enjoyed strapping on the pads in the LHSHL.
“I really like playing all of the different schools and seeing all of my friends that I haven’t seen in a while, and, really, I just do it for the fun of the game now,” said Serpe.
Yes, the two-time LHSHL Cup champion may say he just plays for the fun of the sport, but it’s apparent he’s continued to excel at the position.
“He’s extremely explosive out on the ice,” said Walsh. “He reads and sees plays before they happen, which is an amazing trait.”
Again, Walsh made another good comparison as to why Serpe is the successful goaltender that he is today.
“You could build robots, as far as technically ‘doing what you do;’ and if they don’t have the athletic ability when you make that first save to explode into the second save, that’s where he is exceptional.”
Let’s not forget that these attributes have been displayed on a National stage, too. In 2016, Serpe helped pave the way for Mitchell to win the USA Hockey Combined High School National Championship. The Mustangs defeated Boulder Colorado 8-7 in Ashburn, Virginia during overtime.
“I still can’t believe that we pulled through that last game,” said Serpe. We were down 4-0 at one point (in the game), and we just stuck with it and came back and won.”
Serpe even recalled a last minute “very tip of the skate” save during the National Championship game, which he described as “pretty cool” with his usual smooth demeanor.
Though, aside from hockey, Serpe also enjoys a couple of different hobbies. Ironically enough, the Mustangs’ netminder, drives a Ford Mustang as he has a strong passion for driving.
“I love driving my car and I’m a big fan of that,” said Serpe.
Additionally, Serpe enjoys not only going out to fish, but deep sea fishing out by Tarpon Springs.
“I’ll go out maybe once a month and with some friends to go deep sea fishing out by Tarpon Spring, which I really enjoy.”
Yes, Serpe is driven and a go-getter. As one can only imagine how difficult of a position goaltending is and to also be successful at it. However, stopping pucks isn’t Serpe’s only skill when he’s between the pipes. The youngster has a knack for playing the puck, and was even asked if he’s ever thought about trying to score a goal when an opposing team’s goalie is pulled.
“I’ve actually tried and have come pretty decently close before,” laughed Serpe.
From viewing the expression on his face, one could almost picture him actually scoring a goal, too.
“I’ll always get an assist here and there, I like playing the puck.”
Once Jacob Serpe leaves Mitchell this spring, there will be some big skates to fill. The stats and accomplishments don’t lie, and the skill assets will not be forgotten, but it may be the composure aspect that will be missed the most.
Still, Serpe found a perfect formula to mix a competitive attitude with an uncanny self-poise.
A recipe for success.
(The Lightning High School Hockey League can be followed on Twitter @TBLHSHL)