After a one year hiatus from the Lightning High School Hockey League (LHSHL), the Durant Cougars returned to the league this past offseason and will be one of the 12 teams competing for the Lightning Cup during the 2018 LHSHL Playoffs in February. Durant began the season on the right foot by winning three of its first four games on the season, and prior to the impressive start the Cougars did in fact name a team captain as well.
Senior forward Tanner Ksepka was named captain by the Durant coaching staff five months ago, and the five-foot-seven skater has been essential to Durant’s successful 2018 campaign. Keep in mind that Ksepka is only one of three senior skaters on the Cougars this season, so his veteran presence is key to the program’s future.
(Photo Credit/Cindy Eccles)
“Tanner’s prior experiences playing two years of High School Hockey with Wharton (Wildcats), and travel ice hockey with the Jr. Bulls and Scorpions, made him an obvious choice to lead the rebirth of our program,” said Durant Head Coach Todd Comunale.
Number 58 for the Cougars has enjoyed the unique leadership role he received and his modest leadership qualities are also well respected by a number of his Durant peers.
“Playing for Durant has been awesome,” said Ksepka. “I have a few friends that I’ve played with on previous teams, as well as a few that I’ve wanted to play with.”
Ksepka also expressed that he’s enjoyed playing alongside a longtime friend for the first time in his hockey career. Durant’s leading goal scorer in freshman Jordan Putnam (21G-6A --27pts) and the team’s captain have known each other since Putnam was about five-years-old. Still, it took almost ten years for the two to officially team up together on the ice.
“I would have to say my favorite part of the season is playing with line mate Jordan Putnam,” said Ksepka. “I’ve known Jordan since he was about five years old and Jordan’s Mother, Joanne, was my fifth grade math teacher.”
The longtime duo and now line mates have combined for 39 points on the season, thus far. It also seems that Putnam may have learned some new and positive qualities about Durant’s captain.
“He isn’t afraid to be straight up about a situation with anyone,” said Durant forward Jordan Putnam of Ksepka. “Playing with Tanner has been very fun. We assist on each other’s goals, laugh and joke all the time on and off the ice. It’s been an all-around good time.”
Durant junior forward, Dylan Southern, had similar comments to Putnam on Ksepka.
“The experience playing with Tanner has been fun,” said Southern. “Being good friends with him in and outside of hockey makes some great times.”
Durant’s other leading goal scorer in Southern (9G-18A --18pts) was also complimentary of Ksepka’s dynamic play on the ice, too.
“He isn’t afraid to throw his body around and will block any shot defensively and offensively,” said Southern. “He has a hard shot that he can send from anywhere and score.”
In addition to Ksepka’s admirable play on the ice, coach Comunale also made it clear that his captain puts his teammates before himself.
“Tanner is always looking out for his teammates,” said the Durant Head Coach. “He is usually first to step into the fray on-ice if he feels an opponent is taking advantage of our younger players. It’s somewhat comforting to his teammates knowing he’s wrestled for the Nationally renowned Brandon High School Wrestling team in the past.”
Ksepka with the Brandon High School Wrestling team
Yes, you read that correct; Ksepka used to partake in wrestling, while finishing second in Hillsborough County at the Junior Varsity level for the 158-pound weight class.
“I took a year off from hockey when the Wharton Wildcats did not have enough players to field a team, so I decided to join the Brandon High School Wrestling team for a season,” said Ksepka. “I loved the conditioning and the competition, and the fact that it is an individual sport as well as a team sport. My hockey background helped me tremendously as far as core and leg strength.”
Perhaps taking a year off from hockey and taking on wrestling also contributed towards Ksepka’s leadership abilities at the rink, especially with the team’s younger skaters.
“As we are a young team, we have numerous underclassmen playing Varsity hockey for the first time this season,” said Comunale. “It’s been pretty special to watch Tanner take these kids under his wing and show them the work ethic it takes to succeed in this game.”
It was also clear that Ksepka realizes he is in fact an important influence for the future of this team and how crucial it is to ban together.
“I hope to set a good example for this young team,” said Ksepka. “I believe that a good locker room is key to keeping everyone united, and our dedicated coaching staff is really trying to build a solid program from top to bottom.”
The senior captain genuinely meant from “top to bottom,” and also all of the other outside sources that have contributed towards Durant’s enjoyable 2017-2018 season.
“Everyone is an important part of the organization from the new Junior Varisty freshman to Coach Todd Comunale,” added Ksepka. “I believe that we have come together quickly as a team and have put together a great season.”
Durant will look to continue its intriguing season when the Cougars take on two other tough opponents to close out the rebirth season. Ksepka and company will face-off against the Bloomingdale Ice Bulls this Friday night and then the East Lake Eagles in the team's season finale at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum.
When asked how this Durant team has stood out in comparison to other teams here’s what the senior captain had to say…
“This team stands out to me because we are all coming together from different teams, schools and hockey experience and we are playing really well. I give credit to our success to our players and the coaches that brought us together.”
(The Lightning High School Hockey League can be followed on Twitter @TBLHSHL)