New teams at a high school are rarely formed.
But this season, Cypress Creek has a new hockey team, and the Coyotes have full varsity and JV rosters, a legitimate, competitive league, sharp-looking jerseys, and practice and play in a brand-new facility.
“The biggest thing is we want one community, as one team, to support the players on and off the ice,” coach J.C. Powers said. “We have about 20 players on varsity, and a full JV team, so everyone plays. … They have a chance to plant the seed for the future, to be the start of this new team, to really put a stamp on the league as a new team, as Cypress Creek, and I think our guys, this season, are really enjoying that.”
Cypress Creek is part of the Lightning High School Hockey League (LHSHL), which organizes and oversees teams from five counties: Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Manatee. Despite the number of schools, as well as the always-growing interest in youth hockey in the Tampa Bay area, the league realizes not every high school has enough players to form a team made up entirely of its own student-athletes.
So, every three years, the LHSHL evaluates the “catchments” and pairs together schools to form a team.
Like it did with Cypress Creek.
The team is designated as the Coyotes, but players are coming from Cypress Creek, Sunlake and Pasco high schools.
“It’s a change being a new team because everyone thinks we’re the underdogs,” Cypress Creek senior Cayden Faircloth said. “It’s taken some time, but I think we’ve really come together as a team in a short time. It’s not difficult (all the players) not going to the same school. Sure, we want to learn more about each other, but once you’re out on the ice, it’s all hockey, more so than personality.
“You just want to learn how to play with (your teammates), not fight one another.”
The Coyotes practice and play at Nest Hockey Academy, the new private, not-for-profit athletic and academic institution in Wesley Chapel. They practice once a week and play on Fridays, in games featuring three 15-minute periods.
“The biggest thing is how we try to approach the game, and the biggest thing I tell my players is that you may not know each other or be best friends, but we’re still playing the game of hockey,” Powers said. “A lot of players we have are not new to competitive hockey or the Lightning League. I’ve been coaching since 2017, but the biggest thing with my players is consistency and knowing that it’s okay to make a mistake, but learn from them.
“Like any other team, we want our players to become great young men, especially off the ice. It’s what we strive for.”
The Coyotes, as well as the other teams and players in the LHSHL, will also strive for the postseason. LHSHL teams compete to win the Tampa Bay region, then advance to states and even eye a national championship.
All of that takes teamwork — something the Coyotes have had from the start.
“We had to learn how to play with (new guys) and how to play well with each other and had to gel a little at first, but it didn’t take long,” sophomore Dylan Mize said. “I think we’re playing really well together now. I think it’s a great group of kids and we can do well this year.
“It’s a little different,” he continued, “because you want to gel, not just playing hockey, but when you’re together or even hanging out, but I think we all get along well in the locker room. We’re not like some first-year teams.”
“With us being a new team, (other teams) don’t expect a lot from us,” Faircloth added. “I think they’re underestimating us.”
Cypress Creek is off to a hot start this season, already 4-2 through Sept. 29, scoring 42 goals while allowing just 29.
And whether or not that is expected of a newly formed team, what is expected is a competitive league — one that isn’t exactly brand new.
“That is an effect, isn’t it?” Powers said. “It’s been in full effect for a while, but there is the Lightning effect, the hockey effect. Yeah, it’s the Lightning League, but now it has so many teams, so it’s a great thing, since now we have so many opponents and even balanced teams in the communities.
“In the end, our players and all the teams are out here playing the game of hockey.”
Lightning High School Hockey
Details: Lightning High School Hockey is the high school ice hockey league of the Tampa Bay area, with teams from Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Manatee counties. Most teams are designated as a specific school name, but feature players from up to as many as five or more schools. There are some teams entirely made up of players from a single school. There are four divisions of teams and regular season games run through January.
Cypress Creek (Cypress Creek, Sunlake, Pasco)
Freedom (Freedom, Wharton, Gaither, Leto, Chamberlain)
Land O’ Lakes (entirely made up of Land O’ Lakes players)
Mitchell (Mitchell, River Ridge, Anclote, Fivay, Gulf, Hudson)
Steinbrenner (Steinbrenner, Alonso, Sickles)
Wiregrass Ranch (Wiregrass Ranch, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills)
Info: Visit LightningHighSchoolHockeyLeague.com.
Published October 04, 2023