High school hockey: Loyola-Stevenson highlights title matchups at the UC
Loyola Gold has had an amazing season, arguably the best-ever for the tradition-rich perennial powerhouse in Illinois high school hockey.
The Ramblers won 24 consecutive games in the Scholastic Hockey League, a 10-team league that is, without question, the best in the state. The Ramblers carried the No. 1 ranking for most of the season and were the No. 1-seeded team in the Illinois High School Hockey State Tournament.
But, on the last Sunday in January, in Buffalo Grove, the Ramblers tumbled. They suffered their only league loss, falling 4-1 to the host Stevenson Patriots.
The Ramblers finished league play with a 26-1 regular-season mark and then won the league playoff, sweeping New Trier Green, in the best-of-three finals.
Loyola Gold has not forgotten that Stevenson blemish, as the Ramblers have won three state tournament games in a 13-day span -- first blanking Carmel Catholic, 4-0; then St. Ignatius, 5-1; and finally Glenbrook North 2-1 in the semifinals on March 12.
Well, guess who Gold faces in the finals?
You got it -- Stevenson.
The No. 3-seeded Patriots played in the school's first-ever semifinal on March 12, defeating No. 7 seed Glenbrook South and securing Stevenson's debut in the state championship game, which will be played Saturday at the United Center, starting at 3 p.m.
Stevenson stands at 55-17-2. Loyola is 52-10-2.
"It's the experience that you really want these kids to enjoy, having the chance to play where the (NHL) legends play -- at the United Center. It's an opportunity of a lifetime," said Loyola co-head coach D.J. LaVarre, in his 27th season at the school, who was presented with the team's pro wrestling-style championship belt after the semifinal victory.
"Before our first game, back on Aug. 24, (co-head coach) Blake (Sorensen) told the team that our goal is to win the state championship. The kids believed it and that's been our mindset all season."
The Patriots, though, have been a powerful, explosive team, anchored by one of the state's best goalies, Elias Sandholm. They have won seven of their last nine games and feature three players with more than 100 points.
Jackson Leptich has 73 goals, 47 assists in 73 games to lead the Patriots' attack, while Michael Dowd has had 48 goals, 64 assists. Trevor Hilt has 64, 47, including two goals in the semifinal win over Glenbrook South. Plus, Adam Offenbach has 28 goals and the second-most assists (59).
Leptich has four hat tricks this season, and scored twice in the January win over the Ramblers.
"Stevenson is good. They are a big, strong, physical team. They play three (lines) deep, (with) good (defense) and a big, strong goalie," LaVarre said. "They just play strong, hard, aggressive hockey."
Leptich also had a 1-goal, 1-assist game last Dec. 7, when the Patriots defeated the Ramblers in Buffalo Grove.
Gold holds a 3-2 season series edge over the Patriots, yet the Patriots are the lone Illinois team to defeat the Ramblers twice this season.
"They are a great team that really moves the puck," Loyola forward Brock Huber said of the Patriots.
The championship game is new territory for the eager, carefree Patriots, but it's the Ramblers who probably have the most pressure. Many at Loyola, including players, wear sweatshirts emblazoned with, End the draught.
The Ramblers won the state championship in 1995 and 1996, but are 0-7 in the state championship game since their last title, most recently losing to St. Rita in 2010.
The co-op BG/H/W Stampede, a mix of players from Buffalo Grove, Hersey and Wheeling, is looking for its second state championship in three seasons. BG/H/W advanced with a 2-1 semifinal win over AWF on March 13 in Bensenville.
The Stampede will face Waubonsie Valley, a mix of players from Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley, after the Warriors upset No. 1-seed Glenbard 4-3 on March 13. The Combined Division state championship game starts at 5 p.m.
BG/H/W (32-10-4) was the North-Central League regular-season and playoff champion, and is riding a five-game winning streak. The team features three all-state players: Connor Kelly, Eric Kurpiewski and Gavin Spahr.
Kelly assisted Brendan Buckley on both semifinal game goals.
"This might be the best team I've coached," said BG/H/W hockey director Bob Wagner who, after 16 years, is retiring after the state finals. "They worked their butts off for the final 15 minutes of hockey (in the semifinals); I'm proud of the kids; they worked hard."
Waubonsie Valley, meanwhile, cruised out to a 4-1 lead over top-ranked Glenbard, only to hold off a final-period flurry, which include two Glenbard goals.
Waubonsie goalie Alex Lee stopped 44 Glenbard shots, including 25 in the second period.
"If (Lee) plays (at the United Center) like he did (in the semifinals), they definitely have a chance," Glenbard coach Jason Hawkins said.
Sophomore Zach Pearce has been Waubonsie's most dominant forward, with 33 goals and 37 assists in 30 West Division games. Senior Cade Kenyon had 25 goals and 32 assists in league play, while junior Jack Flood had 18, 21. Senior Alex Howell had 5 game-winning goals of his 11 in 34 league games.
Co-op Glenbrook South is looking to repeat as state champion, despite the No. 3 seed in the eight-team girls state tournament. They face No. 1 seed New Trier, which has been nearly untouchable this season, carrying a 20-5-1 record, and the Trevians have outscored their opponents 124-43.
The girls game starts at 11:30 a.m.
New Trier sophomore Mae Olshansky led Metro Girls with 15 goals and 8 assists in 12 regular-season games. The Trevians' talented lineup also features Julia Laden, Maureen McNerney, Meghan Dwyer and Kate McLaughlin -- all of whom finished in the top 10 of Metro Girls scorers.
High school hockey State championship games
When: Saturday, March 24
Where: United Center
Girls (11:30 a.m.): New Trier vs. Glenbrook South
Boys (3 p.m.): Loyola Gold vs. Stevenson
Boys combined division: BG/H/W vs. Waubonsie Valley
Television: The boys' game will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Chicago and streamed live on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive and via the NBC Sports app.
Giveaway: A set of Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman Bobblehead Magnets will be given away to the first 10,000 fans.
Tickets: General admission tickets, which include parking, are $5, and can be purchased online at chicagoblackhawks.com, in person at the United Center Box Office or by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000.