OLDSMAR, Fla. — The East Lake High School hockey team is off to Omaha, Neb., for the USA Hockey National Tournament.
“It’s going to be top-tier competition,” Eagles senior forward Zach Kelley said. “It’s the best teams from every state. It’s going to be pretty tough.”
East Lake beat North Broward Prep to win the Florida Tier One State Championship to clinch their sixth trip to nationals, but their first since 2015.
“It’s a pretty big honor,” Eagles forward Myles Bulmer said. “I’ve always wanted to go to nationals. My travel team hasn’t been able to go to nationals. But, just to finish second two years in a row like that and to finally come through and get to nationals is pretty good.”
“It’s amazing really,” Eagles forward Daniil Bogdan added. “I am really proud of us how we got here and the journey we had to go through.”
The Eagles have been dominating this season with 29 wins and only one loss. But the pain from that single defeat against Seminole is not something they want to experience again, this time on high school hockey’s biggest stage.
“It was against one of our rivals, so I think that made us hungrier to come back in states and win it all,” Kelley said.
“You know what, the loss was the best thing that could’ve happened to us,” head coach Jim Anna, who is in his 21st season with East Lake, said. “Once you rattle off 22 or 23 straight wins, the guys start believing that they are invincible. It could’ve come a little earlier in the year as a lesson. But, lesson learned. Then they went and ran the table at states.”
East Lake will face Arizona’s state champion, Notre Dame Prep in round one on Thursday morning.
“I feel like we have some lines that are very skilled and do a lot of stuff and we have some lines that are better at penalty killing,” Bulmer said.
“We have good goaltending,” Anna added. “We have one of the top defensive tandems in the state. We have good electric forwards and we have depth.”
Depth to hopefully make a deep run in Omaha.