Hockey: Liebers, Loyola edge out Stevenson for state title

 
By Ross Forman
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 3/24/2018 8:03 PM
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  • Stevenson awaits its runner-up trophy after competing for the high school hockey state championship for the first time Saturday at the United Center.

    Stevenson awaits its runner-up trophy after competing for the high school hockey state championship for the first time Saturday at the United Center. Photo by Ross Forman

  • Loyola Academy celebrates its state championship after a 4-2 victory against Stevenson on Saturday at the United Center.

    Loyola Academy celebrates its state championship after a 4-2 victory against Stevenson on Saturday at the United Center. Photo by Ross Forman

  • Stevenson and Loyola Academy get the full build-up on Saturday at the United Center before their high school state championship matchup.

    Stevenson and Loyola Academy get the full build-up on Saturday at the United Center before their high school state championship matchup. Photo by Ross Forman

Junior defenseman Nicholas Liebers had only 4 goals all season, but at the United Center on Saturday afternoon, he banked the most memorable tally of his career.

Lieber's late third-period goal, which deflected off a Stevenson defenseman, turned into the game-winner as No. 1-seeded Loyola Gold defeated No. 3 Stevenson 4-2 in front of about 13,000 fans.

The Ramblers (53-10-2) won the school's third-ever state championship and ended an 0-7 draught in the championship game since their last title in 1996.

The Patriots (55-18-2) were competing in the school's first-ever hockey state championship game.

"Twenty-two years is a long time," said Loyola co-head coach D.J. LaVarre, who has been at the school since 1990. "What a great moment for the hockey program and the school -- I'm really, really proud. We never stopped; we persevered, we just kept going."

The Ramblers struck first on a goal at 5:53 of the first period from Aidan Finegan, assisted by Christian Dunne and Eamon O'Brien. Stevenson answered with 1:39 remaining in the period on the first of two goals in the game from senior Jackson Leptich, off a faceoff on the left side, assisted by senior center Michael Dowd.

Leptich then gave the Patriots their lone lead of the game, scoring at 9:58 of the second period, rebounding his own shot from the right side past Loyola senior goalie Hugh Brady.

"It was a dream come true to get here, but obviously not the results we wanted," said Leptich, who first skated at age 2. "This was something I'll never forget, probably the highlight of my high school career. When got up 2-1, I thought we were going to keep pounding them, but it didn't happen."

The Ramblers tied the game 2-2 at 7:31 of the second period when junior Declan Darcy beat Stevenson senior goalie Elias Sandholm off an assist from senior Danny Stevens.

"They definitely controlled the play all day today," said Stevenson coach Tom Wood. "There's nothing to be ashamed of; this was the best year in school history. I think the difference was, their forechecking and their pressure on our defense."

Dowd said the Patriots simply "ran out of gas at the end," of the game, but still were five minutes from victory.

Liebers scored with 4:24 remaining to play, and he was awarded the game's MVP award.

"It was an unlucky bounce off our defenseman and we knew it would be tough to come back at that point," Dowd said.

But they tried, hoping to slip one past Brady. It didn't happen.

And the Ramblers iced the victory with 24.7 seconds remaining on junior Timmy Hackett's empty-net goal.

"These kids just find a way; they didn't push a panic button," when Stevenson went ahead 2-1, LaVarre said. "The first (state championship in 1995) is always special; this one was just as big."

Finegan said the title was "a longtime coming" for the program, which was ranked No. 1 for most of the season. The Ramblers were 4-2 in the season series against Stevenson.

Stevens, the Ramblers' captain, said he was "very happy" for the team and everyone who has played for Loyola Gold over the years, "especially everyone in our locker room."

"This was unbelievable; I still don't believe it," said Stevens, who added that hoisting the waist-high trophy over his head after the victory was, "a dream come true."

Girls championship: No. 1-ranked New Trier struck early and never let up en route to a 5-1 win over defending state champion and No. 3-ranked co-op Glenbrook, marking the school's ninth girls high school hockey state championship.

Sophomore Kate McLaughlin scored at 11:36 of the first for the Trevians and sophomore Julia Laden pushed it to a 2-0 lead about a minute later. New Trier led 3-0 after the first period.

"Once we got that first goal, we just kept going; that really helped us," said New Trier junior goalie Abbey Wieczorek, named the game's MVP, which she added was "pretty great."

Senior Hannah Jensen scored Glenbrook's lone goal, at 9:56 of the second period, assisted by junior Maddie Dunham. But the Trevians answered back less than a minute later, and it was 4-1 after two periods.

"It was a really great game; everyone played well and we pulled through, got the W," Wieczorek said.

New Trier finishes 21-5-1, while Glenbrook ends 16-7-3.

"We didn't want to get too high or too low after scoring those two quick goals," said New Trier senior captain Maureen McNerney. "This team is so amazing. We have freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors … and at the beginning of the (season), we didn't know how everyone would mix, but we really came together today."

McNerney said Wieczorek was "absolutely amazing," in the victory.

Senior forward Chloe Carroll summed up Glenbrook's heartache, saying, "It's sad."

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