Ice hockey has become one of the fastest growing high school sports in the Tampa Bay area.
There are 12 teams in the Florida High School Hockey Association’s Lightning Conference, which includes schools from across the region.
Ed de la Paz, president of the conference, attributes much of its recent success to the support of the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
“The Lightning have been wonderful,” de la Paz said. “(They’re) really giving us that hockey perspective.”
Dan Bubley, head coach at Steinbrenner High in Lutz, which competes in the Lightning Conference, has been coaching in Florida for more than 12 years.
At first, Bubley said, it was difficult to find players.
“We used to have to go and drive around the Northdale area to find kids who skated on rollerblades,” he said.
Things have improved. Bubley predicted they will have up to 50 kids trying out for one team before the season starts.
“With all due respect, I think you have to recognize what we are: a non-traditional sport in a sunshine state,” Bubley said.
Bubley said he believes the next step is for the sport to become sanctioned, or “soft sanctioned,” as he put it, by the Florida High School Athletic Association, which sets the guidelines as the governing body for high school sports in the state.
For game times and more information about the FHSHA, visit fhsha.goalline.ca. Select games are also televised on Bright House Sports Network, Ch. 47.