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Lightning High School Hockey Jamboree ushers in new season at St. Pete Times Forum

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning were not the only ones to celebrate the weekend with a victory.

A day after the Bolts 1-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, 20 teams from Tampa Bay Area regional high schools spanning Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota, Polk and Manatee Counties opened their seasons in the second annual Lightning High School Hockey Jamboree. Each team received the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to skate in two games on an official NHL rink as the Bolts helped usher in the official start to the 2011-12 high school hockey season.

A matchup between Berkeley and Jenkins kicked off the tournament at 8:30 a.m., while a final contest pitting Bloomingdale against Gaither/Sickles wrapped up all the action at 6:45 p.m. Among the most notable matchups of the day involved two-time defending Lightning Cup champion Manatee High taking on East Lake, as well as a pair of games between Freedom High and Mitchell. In just its second year, the Lightning High School Hockey Jamboree is looking to build off the successful debut it enjoyed a year ago, in which approximately 2,500 family members and friends attended the inaugural event to the tune of a lot of positive feedback.

“We had a great turnout again this year,” Lightning Director of Youth Hockey Brian Bradley said. “We saw a lot of good competition and a lot of close games, but more importantly, the kids all had a lot of fun, while continuing to grow the game here within the Bay Area.”

Among the clubs winning both of their games on the day were Jesuit, Plant and East Lake. The unofficial award for the highest-scoring team went to Manatee, who notched a cumulative total of 11 goals on the day. Still, the most memorable aspect of the tournament for many of the participants was not the final score or results of each individual match, but rather the experience itself.

“It was a lot of fun,” Stephen Quintero of Seminole High School said. “To get the opportunity to play on an official NHL rink and to hear the music playing and to see the crowd up in the seats was a little weird, but still pretty cool.”

In addition to Sunday’s jamboree, the organization’s youth hockey program also has other great events planned with a goal of growing the game among Tampa Bay’s youth and ensuring that the sport receives proper recognition in the Bay Area.

The first of two Lightning Made youth hockey clinics took place at the Times Forum this past Wednesday, where kids ages 6-16 learned the fundamentals of the game such as shooting, passing and skating from two-time All-Star and Bolts alumnus Brian Bradley. Another session has already been set for later in the spring. Certain game nights are also reserved for Mite Intermissions, when youth players aged 6-9 years old scrimmage on the Times Forum ice at the designated breaks in play of home games throughout the season.

The Lightning Cup will conclude the 2011-12 high school season in February, when the top two teams from the Lightning Conference’s West and Central Divisions will face off at center ice of the St. Pete Times Forum to battle for the conference championship.

The exciting youth hockey schedule set for the upcoming season continues to emphasize the Lightning’s commitment to growing the game of hockey among teenagers in Florida. In addition, it continues to show its dedication to community hockey initiatives through a more hands-on approach, with the goal of promoting the game across all demographics throughout the Tampa Bay area.

“An event like this to get the season started, as well as some of the future initiatives coming up, serve as a real treat to the kids who love to play hockey here in the Bay Area,” said Carl Frasse, Treasurer of the Florida High School Hockey Association. “The new Lightning ownership group has been very helpful in taking more of a hands-on approach to growing the game here in Tampa Bay, and they’ve just been a pleasure to work with.”

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