The Lightning High School Hockey League (LHSHL) opened up the 2017-2018 season by adding two teams to its infrastructure, and one of which that would play out of the Ellenton Ice Arena in Manatee County. The West Manatee Hockey Club was formed during the 2017 offseason to play in its inaugural LHSHL season this year and with 23 skaters. Though, West Manatee would only have one senior to play in its first year of existence.
Who was that veteran to lace up the skates for the Orange and Black?
Considering this is the team’s first season, Schukraft skated right into a role which requires to help lay down a foundation for the future of the West Manatee Hockey Club. Still, the passionate hockey player embraced the team’s unique situation.
“His legacy as our first senior will be looked at as the standard going forward,” said West Manatee Head Coach Mike Bridges of Schukraft.
“When you take a moment to think about it, he’s our lone senior for our inaugural season -- that’s huge.”
After speaking with the senior forward, it was apparent that Schukraft truly sees the bigger picture that’s ahead for West Manatee. Keep in mind that the Orange and Black didn’t officially name a team captain, either.
“We don’t have a captain, and it’s been really cool because I like being there for the younger guys,” said Schukraft when asked what the experience has been like being the lone senior. “It’s helped me a lot, because I want to set a good example for them.”
Bridges made it clear that he has noticed Shukraft’s leadership qualities and willingness to support his team’s younger players – who are the future for the program.
“He’s a great teammate on and off of the ice,” added Bridges. “He sets the example for the younger players, considering that 18 of our 23 players rostered are underclassmen. They see from him how things should be done.”
Schukraft even mentioned what his experience has been like to play with his teammates in the team’s inaugural season, too. “It’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.”
West Manatee has been appreciative of Schukraft’s dedication and mature presence he has had to offer both on and off of the ice, too. The team recently honored number 42 with West Manatee's first ever Senior Night, which perhaps can become an ongoing tradition that began with the team’s inaugural leader.
“We are going to make a big deal out of this (that he’s the lone senior) on our Senior Night, as we recognize him and his family, capping his High School career,” said Bridges.
West Manatee’s Senior Night took place this past Friday night (January 12th) down in Ellenton prior to the team’s final home game of the season. Spoken like a true leader, the five-foot-seven skater was appreciative of the recognition he received from the West Manatee hockey community on that night, as well.
“Definitely a special night and something I’ll always remember,” said Schukraft. “I’m very thankful towards my coach and everybody that helped with it. But especially thankful to my mom and dad, because without them I wouldn’t be where I am today as a person and hockey player.”
Once Schukraft’s senior season comes to a close, he would have played under Bridge’s guidance for three years. Schukraft and Bridges were teamed up for two seasons prior to West Manatee, while being a part of the Gulf Coast Flames travel ice hockey organization. When Bridges was asked what the first characteristic that would come to mind when he looked back on his coaching days with Schukraft, the head coach again referred back to his player’s leadership abilities.
“Leadership -- he leads by example and let’s his actions speak for himself,” said Bridges.
Speaking of leadership, Schukraft wears number 42 for one of his biggest idols and this country’s most historic figures of all-time.
“I wear 42 for Jackie Robinson,” said Schukraft. “It’s kind of like a reminder that nothing stands between me and the things I love doing. He’s my idol and definitely someone I’ll always look up to.”
When number 42 for the Orange and Black isn't at the rink with his teammates and lacing up the skates, the Florida-native enjoys playing pickup basketball with his friends. Do note that Schukraft has also been promoting the sport of hockey to his peers, too.
“We always go out and play basketball and have a good time,” said Schukraft. “I’ve also been introducing the sport of hockey to a lot of my friends as well and its really starting to catch on.”
Sounds like an ambassador for the sport in the Tampa Bay area, right?
The 18-year-old has also enjoyed taking English courses at school, too. “By far English class, it’s always been the easiest for me. I enjoy reading a lot and I’ve always enjoyed writing, too.”
The youngster also added some humor as to why he prefers his English courses in school. “I enjoy the subjects we learn about, and it also has nothing to do with math.”
West Manatee’s leader does plan on attending college once he graduates from High School this spring, too.
“I’m going to college at SCF (State College of Florida) for two years and then will transfer out to a University,” said Schukraft. “I want to major in Radiology, as I’ve always been interested in the medical field.”
The 140-pound skater also made it clear that he’d like to continue his hockey playing days past High School. “I’ll definitely continue to play hockey no question about it, how could I not?”
While Schukraft will no longer be skating with West Manatee, he’ll definitely transfer over his bright perspective on the sport to which ever new locker room welcomes him.
“Hockey for sure has taught me, win or lose, at the end of the day to always be happy and never hang your head; because we’re playing the best sport in the world. That translates over to the real world, as well, just teaching me to keep my head up and look past the negativity.
(The Lightning High School Hockey League can be followed on Twitter @TBLHSHL)