When Dr. Phillips resident T.J. Scammon moved to Florida from the Boston area way back in 1980, he figured he was leaving his beloved hockey behind him along with New England winters.
As it turns out, he figured wrong.
“I came here to Florida and, of course, I didn’t bring my equipment because I thought I was done,” T.J. Scammon said. “Shortly thereafter I was asking my parents ‘send that stuff down — there’s hockey here!’”
The surprise that Scammon felt back to learn that hockey was played here in Central Florida is replicated to this day, especially when people learn that there is a high school hockey league based out of the RDV Sportsplex Athletic Club in Maitland. The Central Florida High School Hockey League is sponsored by the Orlando Solar Bears and is in its second season, with an Orange County team that has players from local schools including West Orange and Dr. Phillips — players like Scammon’s son, Dylan, a rising senior at Dr. Phillips.
Dylan, who says he has plenty of friends who play sports more traditionally associated with the Sunshine State — sports like football and baseball — says he always gets a reaction when he tells his peers he is a hockey player, not that it deters him any.
“A lot of people are shocked but I kind of like it because it’s something different,” Dylan Scammon said. “I pretty much just fell in love with it — hockey’s been my whole life, pretty much.”
The CFHSHL had its All-Star Game last week and has its postseason tournament fast approaching on June 19.
The league serves as a supplement to the travel leagues several local players participate in, and league president Julio Guerra says its all about providing increased opportunities and exposure for youth that are passionate about the game.
“We want to give them the most hockey opportunities at a cost that’s not painful for the parents and also to limit some of the travel,” Guerra said. “It can get quite expensive. …
“It’s all about growing hockey … anything we can do to help to do that.”
The league has most of its team assigned to counties, though there is one “peer team” (a team with 50 percent of its players from one high school) from Lake Mary.
The CFHSHL has recently had games broadcasted locally on Bright House Sports Network and BHSN will air a pair of games on Saturday (including Orange vs. Volusia at 4 p.m.) as well as the league’s playoffs.
For those shocked that such a league even exists here locally, the surprise may heighten even more when they learn that some of the players are very talented relative to areas up north where the game is part of the culture.
Players from Central Florida have found their way to college programs and even NHL rosters and players like Guerra’s son, Matt Guerra, are committed to play collegiately once their prep careers end.
“It’s a sport that you have limited options to get on the ice — so you have to take every opportunity,” T.J. Scammon said. “In Florida those opportunities are actually better than they are up north because there’s a lot less players. They have, believe it or not, a lot more opportunities to get on the ice.”
The game continues to see growth at the youth and teenage level, both in Central Florida and around the state, and Guerra likens it to another sport with northern roots that has grown tremendously in the Sunshine State.
“Lacrosse is a perfect example,” Guerra said. “The organization in lacrosse has grown to the point where it’s a [FHSAA] sanctioned sport, I believe, through most of the state — and that’s what we’d love to see with ice hockey.”
Guerra envisions eventually having more peer teams and campaigning to get the sport sanctioned by the FHSAA.
Part of the game’s growth, agree both Guerra and T.J. Scammon, can be attributed to professional hockey teams in Florida. The state currently has two NHL franchises (the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers) and two East Coast Hockey League franchises (the Solar Bears and Florida Everblades). The presence of those teams provides a direct correlation to getting youth who may attend home games to take an interest in the game.
“I’ve noticed that … when the Solar Bears came back that you’ve seen a lot more enrollment in [beginner skating and hockey programs],” Guerra said.
The league, as currently constructed, runs from April through June and has a varsity and junior varsity level. Players of all skill levels who are interested are encouraged to visit cfhshl.com for more information on getting involved.