147 days ago we kicked off the regular season. Tonight? Tonight, teams that have earned the right to compete for the ultimate prize continue their journey. What ever happened in the regular season no longer matters. The only thing that matters now is there here and now. Win or go home. Tonight, the top teams in each division will begin the chase for the Lightning Cup! We have four games in action tonight night split between two rinks: Clearwater Ice Arena and The Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. Let’s take a deep dive into the match-ups in each game.
A battle in Lecavalier Division. The winner of this game will face division leader, Plant, who received a bye in the first round as a result of winning the division. Spoiler alert, I will be at this game tonight. These two teams have faced off three times this season with Seminole walking away with the victory each time including last Friday, the 25th. The good news for Palm Harbor is that they have played Seminole better and better each time they play and in losing that game last week by one goal and considering Palm Harbor was able to get off 30 shots in that game. I think we all know that with one different bounce of a puck that game could have been tied and possibly have gone Palm Harbor’s way.
Palm Harbor has scored 55 goals this season while conceding 87. The bulk of the goals they have scored has been in the third period which is great obviously, but they tend to give up a majority of their goals in the first which means they are playing catch-up the rest of the game. I am going to say this now and probably countless times throughout this article but at any level of hockey you can see examples of goaltenders being the reason their team advances to the next round(s) and winning a title. Seminole’s goalie, Drew Hollyfield had a phenomenal month of January in net, so I am going to place a huge emphasis on the net minders in this matchup. Another matchup to watch out for is Tylus Williamson-Sah vs. Nathan Norris. One forward vs. one defender. One is 5’5” and the other is 6’5”. Some would call it a mismatch because Williamson-Sah is 5’5” and Norris is literally a foot taller but Tylus is a warrior. I can easily see these two players lines battling it out together all night.
Keys for Palm Harbor:
Keys for Seminole
We have a battle of the Bradley Division, the division I believe to be the strongest and deepest in the league. between the River Ridge Knights and the East Lake Eagles. The winner goes on to face Steinbrenner, who had the most points in the regular season in the Western Conference. Only three points separated these two during the regular season and in a very similar situation as the game above, East Lake was victorious in the first two match-ups in the season but during our November jamboree, just as East Lake was on the verge of sweeping the season series, River Ridge’s Zach Killingbeck was able to score the game tying goal with three seconds left on the clock. Both of these teams are deep with talent and coaching. We’re more than likely going to have a battle between two senior goaltenders in Daniel McCarthy and Anthony Samarkos. These two goaltenders do not let in many goals. I wouldn’t be shocked if the goal total in this game is under 5. The next element of this game that stands out to me in this matchup is the special teams. East Lake has the third best PP in the league and converts 26.2% of the time on the man advantage while River Ridge on the other hand, on the kill, holds their opponent scoreless 88.9% of the time and is neck and neck with leader of the league on the kill. It should be noted that River Ridge barely commits a dumb penalty. They have the second lowest penalty minutes total in the entire league. One last thing to watch for is what I’ll call, the battle of the brothers. East Lake has Demitri and Anthony Samarkos and River Ridge has Dylan and Dustin Hultberg. Both Demetri and Dylan are the leading scorers on their team and coincidentally they both wear number #26.
Keys for River Ridge:
Keys for East Lake:
“SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS” – lil Jon
Let’s shift our focus 28 miles east to the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. First up at 8:15PM we have a meeting of the Modin Division between West Manatee and Durant. The winner will get a chance to take on and dethrone East Manatee, the defending Lightning Cup Champions. Only two points separated these two teams during the regular season and folks, I’ll be honest the race between these two during the second half of the season was exhilarating. Tom and I have said it countless times on the podcast, that West Manatee is the hottest team in the league. During the regular season these two teams faced each other twice and split the series. West Manatee has seven players with double digit scoring led by Mate Imre and Zach Meinczinger and on the other side, Durant has eight players with double digit scoring numbers led by Jordan Putnam and Dylan Southern. Another player who is in his first year in the league and has caught everyone’s attention is freshman Kirill Shpak who has 17 points in just 16 games. If I’m Durant, I keep track of when he and his line step on this ice. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You live and die by the goaltending and this game has it. Tristian Nutten and Dillion Garasz both of these boys have three shutouts and nine wins a piece on the year and with the way our playoff system is structured, this one could be decided in OT or in a shootout.
I’ll be honest, this team are so identically even from PP - PK to GF – GA to experience, scoring, goaltending, and depth that if you’re not at CIA watching the first two games, be at ISF. Or you know what…go to both. After the CIA games end. Get in your car and within the by-laws set by the Department of Motor Vehicles, get to ISF as fast as possible to catch the tail end of this game. I almost want to trade places with Tom just to be in Brandon for this game.
Last but not least we have the final game of the first round of the playoffs between to Andreychuk division rivals. Freedom and Jenkins at ISF @ 9:45PM. The victor will take on Jesuit the following week. Some would say that at the beginning of the season, Freedom was the team to beat when they started 12-3 in their first 15 games but over the last month or, so it seems like things have simmered down. I know Freedom took care of business against Jenkins last Friday and the additional two times they’ve played this year, but this isn’t the regular season. Every team is 0-0 right now. Freedom can lose just as easy they can win if they look past Jenkins. As we all know, Freedom’s Owen Barno woke up one day and decided that he wanted to take this league over this year and did just that. Barno has 50 goals on the year, 19 assists, and averages 3.14 points per game. It can’t be left out that his teammate and line mate Matthew Speciale have added to the Freedom success this year with 15 and 32 for 2.24 PPG. Jenkins has shown some scoring too, can’t sleep on freshman Stefan Bolton or Montana Gordon. This team is due for a win and it sure could be tonight if they play smart.
Keys for Freedom:
Keys for Jenkins:
Alright folks, that’s all I have this week for you. I honestly had a blast writing this article. I’m an analytics addict so I could talk about this stuff all day so if you’ve made it this far and read this all the way down, I respect you. Stay tuned for more playoff coverage for next week. Tune in to the podcast for more in depth coverage from me and Tommy G.
Tag(s): LHSHL Western Conference Lecavalier Division Palm Harbor Seminole Berkeley Plant Bradley Division Mitchell Steinbrenner East Lake River Ridge Eastern Conference Andreychuk Division Freedom Jesuit Wiregrass Jenkins Modin Division Bloomingdale Durant West Manatee Newsome Manatee