The Lightning High School Hockey League (LHSHL) First Shift previews all six of Week Sixteen’s matchups around the Tampa Bay area, which also entails the LHSHL Game of the Week between the Freedom Patriots and Wiregrass Ice Hawks. Additionally, Freedom’s Owen Barno is today’s guest caller for the LHSHL Podcast.
RIVER RIDGE-EAST LAKE
For the third, and final, time during the regular season the River Ridge Knights and East Lake Eagles will face-off. The two Bradley Division rivals will take to the ice at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy (TBSA) for an 8:15pm puck drop.
Keep in mind that River Ridge is a different team since it last met East Lake, as forward Jacob Schnapp has been a key and recent addition to the Knights. Schnapp has found the back of the net six times and chipped in two helpers totaling eight points in four games played. Additionally, River Ridge enters the contest riding a three-game winning-streak, and a win tomorrow night would tie a season-high (four-game winning-streak).
On the other side of the ice, East Lake is fresh off of a key win against the East Manatee Admirals last weekend. The Eagles defeated the Admirals 4-3 on home ice at TBSA, which means two of the LHSHL’s top teams split their season series with one win and a loss each. The Eagles have only lost two games since October 27th, and one of those losses came from the likes of the Knights (3-2). That last matchup was arguably one of the more entertaining games on the year, plus defenseman Kenny Malinoski (6G-4A –10pts) and his Eagles will be hungry to seek revenge against River Ridge come tomorrow night.
*River Ridge (11-8-1 –23pts) *East Lake (17-2-1 –35pts)
The George-Jenkins Eagles will hope that their fortunes are different this time around when the Eagles take to the ice at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum (ISF) tomorrow night against the Bloomingdale Ice Bulls. In the last meeting between these out of division teams, Bloomingdale defeated Jenkins 13-4, which also helped jumpstart the Bulls’ turnaround this season.
Though, a win for Jenkins would officially clinch a playoff berth for the 2018 LHSHL Playoffs, and eliminate Freedom from playoff contention. Isaac Graves (13G-12A –25pts) and company just defeated West Manatee by a score of 4-3 last night, so Jenkins will enter the contest with the momentum swing.
As for Bloomingdale, the Bulls find themselves in a bit of a slump. Bloomingdale is on a two-game losing streak, and are now just one point ahead of Newsome in the Modin Division standings with three games left to play. Perhaps the Bulls can receive some additional scoring help from depth skaters – and at a time when they need it most…
Jenkins (8-9-3 –19pts) Bloomingdale (8-9-2 –18pts)
Two Lecavalier Division rivals will face-off tomorrow night for an 8:30pm puck drop at Florida Hospital Center Ice (FHCI). The Seminole Sharks and Plant Panthers will meet for the third time this season, yet the Sharks are one of the few teams who have defeated Plant twice this season. Not only has Seminole taken away four-points from the Panthers in the league standings, but the Teal have shutout Plant in both meetings. Additionally, Seminole has outscored Plant 13-0 in those two wins (6-0; 7-0). The LHSHL’s leading goal-scorer in Zach Katz (44G-8A –52pts) will look to get the Sharks back on track, especially since the team suffered a tough loss last weekend to Mitchell.
Still, the Panthers have proven that they’re a much different team since these two in-division rivals faced-off. For the first time this season the Panthers find themselves in first place and ahead of the Sharks in the standings. Plant is fresh off of a key victory against Wiregrass last night (3-0), and junior Hamilton Reese enters the contest riding a five-game points-streak. Reese has nine goals and three assists during that span, too.
*Seminole (9-6-3 –21pts) *Plant (11-8-0 –22pts)
Two teams that weren’t in action last night will meet again for the second time in as many games. The Newsome Wolves took down the Durant Cougars just prior to the Winter Break (5-1 on December 15th), and the two Modin Division rivals are set to meet at ISF come tomorrow night. Newsome is in fact still in the hunt for the 2018 LHSHL Playoffs, too. The Wolves have just two games remaining in the season, but find themselves just one point behind Bloomingdale for the final and third spot playoff spot in the division. If Newsome has a full squad and stud goaltender Jacob Weaver starting between the pipes, than the Wolves could give Durant trouble – again.
While Durant has clinched a playoff berth, the Cougars’ three remaining games are no easy task (Newsome, Bloomingdale & East Lake); and that tough playoff preparation starts with Newsome. Still, Durant Goaltender Dillon Garasz will more than likely start between the pipes for the Cougars, and the youngster has been consistent all season for Durant. Keep in mind that Durant has been receiving more scoring help lately, too. Durant’s C.J. Comunale (7G-5A –12pts) has six points in his last five games, and Dylan Southern (9G-18A –27pts) has recorded six points in Durant’s last three games.
Depth is of the essence.
Newsome (8-11-1 –17pts) *Durant (10-7-2 –22pts)
No, this matchup isn’t the LHSHL Game of the Week, but it is one of the more intriguing matchups for Week 16’s schedule. The Mitchell Mustangs and Jesuit Tigers will face-off in the late game (10:00pm) at FHCI, but the out-of-division matchup will serve as a good test for both teams prior to the 2018 LHSHL Playoffs.
Mitchell has been dealing with a short bench as of late, but don’t let that fool you. The Mustangs defeated the Sharks 10-1 last week, and came up just short last night (eight skaters & one goalie) losing to Plant 5-3. The Mustangs have proven that they are capable of going on an extensive winning-streak this season, and defenseman Jon Heller (7G-16A –23pts) will look to lead Mitchell back to its winning ways – just in time for the postseason.
The 2018 Andreychuk Division champions have been nothing short of both consistent and impressive all season, and the Tigers will be sure to put another stamp on their season when they face-off with the defending LHSHL champions tomorrow night. Jesuit hasn’t played Mitchell since the team’s opening game back on September 17th (4-1 win), however the Mustangs have come a long way since the team’s first seven games (3-4 record). Jesuit has one of the top LHSHL goaltenders in Paul Coats, who has been a workhorse between the pipes all season, and one could be sure that Joshua Burke will look to get his on the score sheet early on. Additionally, Jesuit is 9-3-2 against LHSHL teams that are currently in a playoff position heading into week 16.
*Mitchell (11-8-0 –22pts) *Jesuit (14-3-2)
Game of the Week
The first scheduled game for Week 16 will act as the LHSHL Game of the Week and take place at FHCI for a 7:00pm puck drop. The Freedom Patriots and Wiregrass Ice Hawks will take to the ice in another Andreychuk Division showdown, and every game from here on out (3 games remaining) is crucial for the Patriots. Additionally, the contest will serve as the first of a back-to-back series between these two teams.
A loss for Freedom tomorrow night would mean that the Pats would no longer have a chance at clinching second place in the division, and keep in mind that fourth place Freedom is currently three points out of a playoff position (Jenkins).
These two Andreychuk Division teams last met back on November 1st when the teams skated to a 5-5 tie. While both teams have strong goaltending, each roster also has some of the league’s most talented offensive skaters. Sophomore forward, Owen Barno (27G-10A –27pts), of Freedom will look to display his skating and stick handling abilities are nothing short of top tier in front of Wiregrass senior, Josey Davis (35G-17A –52pts).
When Barno scores a hat trick or more in a contest this season -- Freedom is 3-2; however the youngster hasn’t found the back of the net in the team’s last two games. Still, that could serve as a bad variable for Wiregrass come tomorrow night, as Barno will be determined to help lead his team back into the LHSHL Playoffs.
Freedom is 2-5-1 in its last eight games, and will need contributions from everyone up and down the lineup. A veteran such as defenseman Joey Lentz should see some key ice time; but players such as Vincent Margosian (6G-23A –29pts) and Matthew Speciale (7G-19A –26pts) will need to find ways to score, as well. Perhaps an x-factor for the Pats could end up being Dylan Heck (2G-3A –5pts), who had a beauty of a goal last weekend against Durant…
Still, Wiregrass will be eager to keep Freedom out of the playoffs. The Hawks recently received goaltender Carson Saunders back into its lineup, and the masked man is usually dominant between the pipes when called upon. If Davis and forward Gehrig Oppenheimer are both in the lineup, the two may just team up for multi-point night, and get Wiregrass rolling in the right direction as the playoffs near. Nicholas Lawrence (5G-2A –7pts) could be the x-factor in this contest, as his speed through the neutral zone could cause trouble for Freedom all night.
Though, special teams could ultimately be the difference maker for this pivotal matchup.
*Represents teams that have clinched a spot in the 2018 LHSHL Playoffs
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