Although the Stanley Cup Finals are still several months away, the date on the calendar didn’t stop the Tampa Bay Times Forum from crowning a hockey champion on Wednesday night.
A high school hockey champion, that is.
In the Lightning Conference championship game, also known as the Lightning Cup, East Lake High School overcame an early one-goal deficit to defeat Mitchell High School and win its second consecutive Lightning Cup title.
“Well first off it was a great game and you have to give Mitchell a lot of credit,” East Lake head coach Jim Anna said. “But in the end, I think our kids wanted to keep that trophy in their school for another year. It was a great finish for us.”
After a scoreless first period, Mitchell got on the board first when the team’s leading point getter throughout the regular season, Evan Lugo, wristed a shot through the five-hole of game MVP David Johnson, the East Lake goaltender.
East Lake then caught a break when Richard Foy’s shot rang the post, nearly tying the contest, only to have one of Mitchell’s own players inadvertently put the puck in his own net just moments later to make it 1-1. The goal was officially credit to East Lake’s Austin Teall, who finished the night with two goals.
Lightning forward Vinny Lecavalier, on hand to announce a new initiatives for his foundation, participated in the ceremonial puck drop.
The tied game entered the third period, still up for grabs.
East Lake’s Zane Katz nearly put the Eagles up by one, but his shot off the crossbar just missed the net to keep things even.
The momentum didn’t shift too much, however, as the Eagles scored twice in the final period to put the game out of reach and claim the championship.
Teall’s second and final marker of the night put the Eagles up 2-1 with approximately seven minutes left, and Michael Kovacs added a late tally in the final minutes to seal the win.
“An amazing experience,” East Lake senior captain Christopher Donnay said. “Last year winning it as a junior was great, but coming back in your last year of high school and winning it again, I’m not so sure there’s anything else I could have asked for.”
The championship game also served as the finale to an evening that also included the Lightning Conference All-Star Game, which was played prior to the championship contest, also on the Times Forum ice.
Each side, coached by Lightning legends Dave Andreychuk and Brian Bradley, featured players from the Lightning Conference. Each coach from each team in the conference selected their club’s top two players, while the goaltenders were selected by Andreychuk and Bradley, respectively.
Teams were also split up by the regular season standings to ensure a level playing field.
In the end, Team Bradley prevailed by a score of 5-3, getting goals from Clint Walden, Greg Zielinski, Jimmy Jones and Jackson Widell.