LAKEWOOD RANCH — Brendan Nicholson knew he was going to be a hockey player well before he had even set foot on the ice.
He practically grew up with a hockey stick in his hand.
The then 5-year-old would spend his afternoons turning the kitchen trash cans into goalposts and firing off shot after shot.
At that point, Nicholson knew he was destined for greatness.
“Hockey has always been in the family,” Nicholson says. “I started (playing) as soon as I was old enough. I just always liked it.”
Nicholson joined the Gulf Coast Flames Hockey Club and spent the next 10 years working his way up through the Flames system.
In addition to playing travel hockey, Nicholson joined the Sarasota County high school hockey team as a freshman.
The Cardinal Mooney High senior forward has since developed into one of the league’s premier players, and last month Nicholson and teammate Jessie Bafia, who also is a senior at Cardinal Mooney, were selected to participate in the Lightning Conference All-Star Game.
The Lightning Conference is made up of 18 high school teams in the Tampa Bay area, and two players from each team were chosen to participate.
“It’ll be fun playing with the best hockey players in the area and being able to play at the Tampa Bay Times Forum,” Bafia says.
On Feb. 13, Nicholson and Bafia took the ice at the Tampa Bay Times Forum as part of Team Andreychuk, with former National Hockey League player Dave Andreychuk serving as their coach.
The two teammates learned they had been named to the all-star team after Andreychuk called and left a message for Nicholson.
“I didn’t know what he was talking about at first,” Nicholson says. “I was confused. It’s exciting, though.”
Similar to Nicholson, Bafia began playing hockey as soon as he was old enough.
“When I was little, I used to practice and play with the older kids,” Bafia says. “I definitely liked it more (than other sports). I felt more comfortable on the ice, and it was more active.”
But it wasn’t until Bafia joined the Sarasota County high school hockey team as a sophomore that the two classmates actually got to know one another.
“He was just the other kid at school who played hockey who you didn’t know anything about,” Bafia says of Nicholson.
Shortly thereafter, the two made the Tampa Bay Juniors travel hockey team, which competes up and down the East Coast from Miami to Boston.
The two will now spend the remainder of the school year training with the Tampa Bay Juniors before deciding whether othey want to continue playing hockey in college.
In addition to training, Nicholson will also prepare to represent Team Florida South during a showcase weekend in April, in Pittsburgh. Nicholson was chosen to participate following a tryout earlier this year.
“I was surprised because I missed the second tryout, so I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Nicholson says.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].