Triangle High School Hockey League attracts big interest thanks to success of Carolina Hurricanes

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Thursday, April 25, 2024
Triangle High School Hockey League: Ambitious young athletes credit Carolina Hurricanes popularity with helping grow the game
A group of North Carolina high school students built their own hockey league and hope its rapid growth eventually leads to the sport becoming part of the school system.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Combine the popularity of the Carolina Hurricanes with some ambitious young hockey players and you get a burgeoning high school hockey league in North Carolina.

On Thursday, the Carolina Hurricanes will hit hit the ice for Game 3 of their opening-round match-up against the New York Islanders. On Friday, the next generation of hockey players in the Triangle will follow suit.

"We really didn't have any high school hockey scene in North Carolina," explained Steven Ismaili.

Ismaili was a senior last year at Cardinal Gibbons. He's part of a group of students who wanted to play in front of crowds while representing their school.

"We originally started as one high school team playing a high school from South Carolina. And then after that, it just was a rapid effect. We had other schools reaching out, saying, 'How can we play you? How can we get into this?" Ismaili recalled.

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Word further spread on social media, with the original idea of a one-off series growing to six and then 18 teams, ultimately forming into the Triangle High School Hockey League.

"I'm very surprised. We did not think it's going to go this quickly. We thought it's going to take at least a few years to start growing and get a grasp on it," said Ismaili.

"I've always had to travel for my travel team, so I never really got to experience those football games and all that school spirit. We come out here and play Friday and Saturday (and) see how many people come out and it really makes you feel prideful about your school," added Leesville High senior Jake Wilkerson.

For the Wilkersons, it's a family affair, as he shares the ice with his younger sister.

"It's great, especially because I'm three years older than her. I don't really have the option to play with her all the time, so being able to get out there and do it before I move away is special, especially for my parents," Wilkerson said.

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Ismaili, now a freshman at High Point University, serves as the league's commissioner.

"I want to keep the vision alive," said Ismaili.

The league operates as a non-profit, backed by sponsors, fundraisers, and student fees. While teams are able to utilize their school's names, they do not receive financial backing.

"Hockey is expensive and (for) lower income athletes, it would help give them a chance to play and try out the sport," said Ismaili about the prospect of schools ultimately contributing.

For now, players are grateful for the chance to play and the league's growing popularity. Ismaili noted the league has received interest from teams in Wilmington and Greensboro, but have been unable to add on due to ice time limitations.


Of the league's 18 teams, 12 are comprised of players from one school and six are comprised of players from multiple schools. The teams, which are made up of 20-25 players, compete in separate divisions.

Wilkerson is hoping to play junior hockey next season, and believes the continued growth can help benefit players looking to play at the next level.

"I think over the next couple of years it would for sure take off and more people will come to watch (and) see some talent here."

According to Hockey Reference, there have been four NHL players who were born in North Carolina: Jared Boll, Logan Brown, Jake Leschyshyn and Ben Smith. Leschyshyn was the lone player to appear in a game this season, suiting up once for the Rangers.

Both Ismaili and Wilkerson credit the Canes success in helping spur the sport's popularity.

"The Canes have done a great job building hockey around here," said Wilkerson.

"They see how much fun it is to watch hockey," added Ismaili.

Triangle High School Hockey League Games take place on Fridays and Saturdays at Wake Competition Center in Morrisville and Polar Ice Wake Forest in Wake Forest.