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2018 Lightning Cup Finals Podcast Preview

By Kyle McKenna, 02/15/18, 6:15PM EST


East Manatee & East Lake face-off at Amalie Arena for the Lightning Cup

The Lightning High School Hockey League (LHSHL) Cup Finals will be played between the East Manatee Admirals and East Lake Eagles at Amalie Arena on Friday, February 16, with a 7:30pm puck drop. The Cup Final is open to the public and doors will open at 6:00 p.m. Additionally, the public may enter through Gate B at the Main Staircase and parking is available at any of the arena parking lots at posted rates.  

The Lightning Cup Finals Podcast recaps the league’s Eastern and Western Conference Championship games from last night at Florida Hospital Center Ice (FHCI). Additionally, the segment previews the 2018 Lightning Cup Finals.




The Seminole Sharks and East Lake Eagles faced-off in the 2018 LHSHL Western Conference Finals at FHCI last night, where East Lake defeated Seminole by a final score of 8-2. By collecting the win, East Lake advanced to the Lightning Cup Finals.

While the first period ended in a scoreless tie, the LHSHL witnessed four goals scored during the second period and three of which came from East Lake. Eagles forward Demitri Samarkos found the back of the net twice during the second frame, and East Lake defenseman Kenny Malonski also chipped in goal to give the Eagles a 3-1 lead after two periods of play. Yet, East Lake was just getting started.

(Photo Credit/Cindy Eccles)

The Eagles proved how deep they are at all areas on the ice, after five different East Lake skaters found the back of the net during the third period (Justin Garr, Matthew Raleigh, Zach Kelley, Colson Valley and Demitri Samarkos). As for Samarkos, the junior forward recorded his second hat trick of the LHSHL Playoffs. East Lake also received scoring help from its top center in Nickolas Belanger, who finished the night with three helpers.

Additionally, Eagles goaltender James Belczyk recorded his first win of the 2018 LHSHL Playoffs. Belczyk made a number of key saves while the team was on the penalty-kill, which also saw East Lake kill off all five of Seminole’s power plays on the night. The senior netminder turned away 27 of Seminoles shots, overall.

East Lake Playoff Leaders:

Demitri Samarkos (6G-1A –7pts)

Justin Garr (1G-4A –5pts)

Kenny Malonski (2G-1A –3pts)


Marcus Alfaro (1-0; 3.00 GAA; .885 SV%)

James Belczyk (1-0; 2.00 GAA; .931 SV%)



The much anticipated Eastern Conference Finals between a pair of one-seeds arguably exceeded all expectations. The Jesuit Tigers and East Manatee Admirals took to the ice on the Busch Gardens rink in front of a packed house in hopes to play at Amalie Arena on Friday night. The two teams skated to a 0-0 tie, and found themselves playing in the second overtime contest of the playoffs. However, it would be East Manatee that walked away victorious from FHCI.

The game opened up with an intense atmosphere and was nothing short of fast paced, which also saw East Manatee outshoot Jesuit 8-5 during the first period. Jesuit netminder Paul Coats came through in the clutch for the Tigers all night, as the senior goaltender eventually stopped all 31 of East Mantee’s shots on goal. While Jesuit didn’t record a shot during the third period, and only finished the night with 17 shots on goal, Admirals goaltender Tyler Moschella was just as bright between the pipes.

(Photo Credit/Cindy Eccles)

East Manatee found itself shorthanded early on during the overtime period, and Moschella recorded a handful of big saves during the Championship’s extra frame. Number 31 for East Manatee ended up stopping all six of Jesuit’s shots during overtime and eventually played the role of hero to officially close out the contest.

The LHSHL Community witnessed its first shootout of the 2018 Playoffs, too. East Manatee (Home team) selected to shoot first and it was Cade Wessel who would have the first shot attempt for the Admirals. Wessel did not disappoint, either. The senior defenseman beat Coats, which was all that East Manatee would need to clinch.

Jesuit’s first shooter in Trent Gephart was denied by Moschella, and the Admirals would then see Peter Morgan put the puck passed Coats on his low blocker side to set the stage for Moschella to close out the night. Jesuit then selected Nolan Forrest to shoot second, who would need to score to keep Jesuit’s playoff run alive. Though, Moschella made a stick save to deny Forrest and officially help East Manatee advance to the Lightning Cup Finals.

East Manatee Playoff Leaders:

Jackson Bennett (3G-4A –7pts; 1GP)

Peter Morgan (4G-2A –6pts; 1GP)

Isaac Bliss (2G-1A –3pts; 1GP)


Tyler Moschella (1-0; 0.00 GAA; 1.000 SV%)

Alex Workman (1-0; 0.00 GAA; 1.000 SV%)



Amalie Arena will play the role of host for the 2018 Lightning Cup Finals tomorrow night for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop between the East Manatee Admirals and East Lake Eagles. The two teams finished in first (East Lake) and second place (East Manatee) for the LHSHL overall standings during the regular season, too.

Entering the contest each team did have a first-round bye and also started two different goaltenders (Rounds Two & Three) to advance to the Lightning Cup Finals. The out-of-Conference foes met twice during the regular season and spilt the season series, and during the first matchup back on November 17, East Manatee defeated the Eagles in a tight one goal contest by a score of 5-4.

However, it was East Lake that collected the win during the second meeting back on January 12. The Eagles skated to a 4-3 victory on that night and became just the second team to defeat the Admirals on the year (Jesuit).

Through two playoff games played the Admirals have yet to allow a goal and both East Manatee goaltenders in, Alex Workman and Tyler Moschella, have earned shutouts this postseason. Though, one would imagine that the senior in Moschella will get the nod tomorrow night; especially after Moschella’s impressive showing last night during the team’s shootout win against Jesuit (1-0). While Moschella was between the pipes for the team’s loss versus East Lake earlier in the season, number 31 will look to keep the team’s hot streak rolling and hoist the Lightning Cup at the end of the night.

Sure, East Manatee didn’t record a goal in regulation during the Eastern Conference Finals, but don’t let that convince you towards the wrong mindset about the team’s offense. East Manatee led the league this season in Goals For, while finding the back of the net over 140 times. Plus, East Manatee had eight skaters with 20 or more points during the regular season.

East Lake has been receiving offensive contributions throughout its lineup all season, and at times when the Eagles need it most. Keep in mind that Demitri Samarkos has almost reached half of his goal-totals from the regular season (17 goals in 18 games played), as the junior forward has six goals in two games played this postseason, plus he’s been credited with both of East Lake’s game-winning goals in the team’s run to the Lightning Cup Finals.

Additionally, East Lake has continued to receive scoring help from the team’s blue liners. Senior defenseman Kenny Malonski has two goals this postseason and both have come on the power play. One of the Eagles’ other top D’man in Evan jones has two assists this playoffs, which has also come during the man-advantage. Junior forward Colson Valby may pan out to be an x-factor tomorrow night, as Valby had a goal and an assist during the team’s last outing.

The big question heading into the Lightning Cup Final is who will start between the pipes for East Lake; will the Eagles go back to senior goaltender James Belczyk, or does Anthony Samarkos get the nod?

Either way, the 2018 Lightning Cup Finals will come down to the wire and more than likely be decided by one goal.

See You At Amalie.

(The Lightning High School Hockey League can be followed on Twitter @TBLHSHL)