Okemos remained in a first-place tie in the CAAC hockey standings, and put a serious dent in Jackson Lumen Christi’s hopes to extend its streak of three consecutive league titles, with a dramatic 2-1 win at Suburban Ice on Saturday.
The marquee game of the Sixth Annual CAAC High School Hockey Showcase lived up to expectations, as Matt Luberto scored the winning goal for the Chiefs (11-3 overall, 7-1 in CAAC) with 4:44 left in a hard-fought, end-to-end contest.
“This is huge for our guys,” Okemos coach Bill Sipola said. “We all knew it was for first place, so we had to win. A second loss really hurts, so we’re in a good position.”
Mike Wartella, in his 28th season as the Titans’ head coach, said that the game had a familiar feel.
“It was really a classic Lumen-Okemos game,” Wartella said. “It was pretty good hockey game, I thought both teams played well. You want a better result, but I was happy with the effort.”
Okemos opened the scoring with a goal by Cameron Usiak, assisted by Collin Hanson, at the 8:51mark in the first period, and Jake Boldt tied the game for the Titans (7-8, 6-2) 2:12 into the second.
Tempers flared in the second period, in which eight penalties were called, including three sets of double-minors.
“Okemos and Lumen Christi have always had tremendous games, and they’ve always been important games,” Sipola said. “I knew that there would be a little bad blood between us in such a close game, but the referees called a really good game.”
The Chieftains had the better chances in the third period, starting about three minutes in, when Derek Tubben’s shot from the right wing forced a tough glove save by Lumen goalie Michael Todd, and then Nick Green hit the post with a wrist shot off of the ensuing faceoff.
“We really forechecked hard,” Sipola said. “We played three lines the whole game and I think we wore them down in the third period, because they did look a little tired.”
The game-winner came when Tristan Eggenberger sent Luberto and freshman Anders Staky in on a 2-on-1 break. Loberto on the right wing chose to shoot, and beat Todd on the short side, not quite exactly to plan.
“I tried to shoot it low and it went high,” Luberto said. “I had a couple of other 2-on-1’s in the game and I decided to pass, but they didn’t get through so on this one, I shot.”
With the win, Okemos is in the hunt to win its first league championship since 2000, and their first in the CAAC. The title will likely be decided by the results of two of their six remaining league games, at home against Eastside on Feb. 2 and the regular-season finale at Lumen Christi on Feb. 23.