Champions Crowned at the United Center

No. 1-Ranked Loyola Gold Skates Past Stevenson For School’s First State Championship In 22 Years


By Ross Forman

Move over, Jack Raith; you have some company on that bench-of-awesomeness.

Two years ago, as a junior for New Trier Green, Raith scored 4 goals in the Trevians’ 5-2 win over Providence Catholic to claim the Illinois High School Hockey State Championship (Red Division). New Trier coach Bob Melton said at the time that it was, “the best single-person performance I’ve seen in a state championship game.” Raith is now a freshman at the University of Denver.

Well let’s meet Brendan Buckley, a junior forward for co-op BG/H/W, the team filled with players from Buffalo Grove, Hersey and Wheeling.

Buckley was simply awesome at the United Center on Saturday, March 24, leading the Stampede to a convincing 7-2 win over co-op Waubonsie Valley for the Combined Division Illinois High School Hockey State Championship.

Buckley scored 4, all assisted by senior Conner Kelly.

The scoresheet said it all:

6 from 97.

6 from 97.

6 from 97.

6 from 97.

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“I never would have imagined,” scoring 4 goals in the state championship game, said Buckley, who lives in Arlington Heights and attends Hersey. “I got a lot of opportunities, a lot of tap-in goals. It just worked out for me. My linemates set me up really well today … and I had a hot stick.

“It’s an amazing feeling; it’s crazy, I can’t even put this feeling into words.”

Buckley came into the game tied for second on the team (with senior Sean Brawley) for scoring, as Buckley had 32 goals, 38 assists. His end of the season stats: 36 goals, 39 assists.

“He was in the right spot at the right time and he’s a good player,” said Waubonsie head coach Jimmy Frasco.

Buckley never scored more than 2 goals in a game this season and his MVP night was even brighter consider he was a house league player until joining BG/H/W as a freshman on the JV. Last season, he was the varsity’s Most Improved Player.

“(Buckley) went (last season) for a third- or fourth-line player to a first-line player due to effort. This year, he really matured,” said BG/H/W coach Bob Wagner. “Buckley is a great kid, never complains, and deserves the accolades.”

Kelly – who scored the Stampede’s first goal at 9:38 of the first period, assisted by Buckley – said, “I tell everyone how under-appreciated (Buckley) is.”

BG/H/W finishes 47-14-4; Waubonsie ends 35-20-1.

“I think the kids played great and I’m really proud of them,” said Wagner, who announced his retirement after the game, ending a 16-year run on the BG/H/W bench. He will remain the president of the North-Central League.

“To win state in my last game … it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Kelly added, “We wanted to end the season on the right note, and we did.”

Waubonsie, meanwhile, was just able to savor the experience of again skating at the UC.

“We were very excited about being here, but just came out flat and couldn’t get our jump back,” Frasco said. “We tried to change things up, but just couldn’t get the flow going that we used to get here.

“It’s very heartbreaking. Today just wasn’t our day. Nonetheless, I’m very happy with what these kids did accomplish this year.”

Senior Zac Lyons (Waubonsie Valley), of Naperville, cut the score to 5-2 on an unassisted rebound goal at 13:07 of the third period.

“It just wasn’t our night,” Lyons said. “We had a helluva year; no one thought we would have come this far. I don’t think we were really focused, or maybe we just lost focus tonight. And that hurt us.”

Junior Paul Krutchen scored the Stampede’s final tally with 1:21 remaining, assisted by junior Tyler Larsen and senior Grant Evans.


RED DIVISION

Four goals also was part of the storyline in the top-tiered Red Division game as No. 1-seeded Loyola Gold faced No. 3 Stevenson.

Junior defenseman Nicholas Liebers scored only 4 goals all season for the explosive Ramblers, but at the United Center, he banked the most memorable tally of his career.

Lieber’s late third period goal from the left point deflected off a Stevenson defenseman and past goalie Elias Sandholm. It proved to be the game-winner as Loyola Gold erased 22 years of misery, beating the Patriots 4-2 in front of about 13,000 fans.

“I was pretty amped up (after the goal) and that’s when I really thought we could win this game, even though 4 minutes left (to play) is a lot of time, especially against a team like Stevenson,” Liebers said.

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 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.”

And one Rambler already has chimed in on the 2019 State Championship:

“Now that we got that (draught monkey) off our back, we’re going back to back,” said junior forward Aidan Finegan, who scored the first goal of the game, at 5:53 of the first period, assisted by Christian Dunne and Eamon O’Brien.

“It was intense out there,” Finegan added.

Stevenson tied the game before the end of the first period, and when senior Jackson Leptich tallied his second goal at 9:58 of the second period, the Patriots led, 2-1.

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“It was a dream come true to get here, but obviously not the results we wanted,” said Leptich, who lives in Long Grove and 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 Sandholm off an assist from senior Danny Stevens.

“They definitely controlled the play all day today,” said Stevenson head 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.”

Liebers scored with 4:24 remaining to play.

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

“This was great; there really aren’t words to explain it … it just feels so good,” Finegan said.

Stevens added, “This was unbelievable; I still don’t believe it.”

Stevens was first to hoist the championship trophy and said it was, “a dream come true.”


GIRLS DIVISION

The state championship trophy is going back to New Trier, again.

For the ninth time.

Yep, the Trevians are now 9-time Girls High School Hockey State Champions after their convincing 5-1 win over defending state champion and No. 3-ranked co-op Glenbrook.

The Trevians came in No. 1-ranked, and end as No. 1.

“It was a really great game; everyone played well and we pulled through, got the W,” said New Trier goalie Abbey Wieczorek, named the game’s MVP.

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

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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.

Senior Hannah Jensen scored Glenbrook’s lone goal, at 9:56 of the second period, assisted by junior Maddie Dunham.

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


Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.



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