Heading into Sunday's championship game of the 2014 Blue Jackets Cup, it may have been tough to bet against Dublin Jerome even with the Celtics missing one of their top scorers.
Winners of two consecutive Blue Jackets Cups and six of the last eight overall, the Celtics were in position to continue their dominance over this tournament - but standing in their way was an equally determined and well-rounded St. Charles team.
And when the two teams finally locked horns, the result was an entertaining hockey game that literally went down to the wire at the OhioHealth Ice Haus. St. Charles, thanks to stout defensive work and timely goal-scoring, knocked off the two-time defending champion Celtics in a 2-1 final to capture the Capital Hockey Conference championship.
Both teams made certain to not yield any free ice, taking away time and space early on and eliminating any sustained attacking zone time in the first period. Dublin Jerome had a few chances to open the scoring in the first few minutes, but after that, the Cardinals took the play back and established territory in the Celtics' zone.
St. Charles was first to break through, turning a neutral zone misplay into a 3-on-2 break that would lead to the opening goal. A drop pass, a cut to the net and a back door pass later, Jack Cleary made it a 1-0 game midway through the period.
Discipline would come into play later in the first period. The Cardinals took a couple of interference penalties in the first period that gifted the Celtics with power play chances, but St. Charles' penalty kill along with goaltender Alex Ward did the job and took a one-goal lead into the intermission.
The Cardinals added on to their lead in the second period, and the eventual game-winning goal came after a few close calls by Dublin Jerome at the other end. St. Charles starting getting pucks toward the net, and the 2-0 goal was the result of a loose puck in the crease that was jammed in by Clayton Klosz at 8:14 of the middle frame.
In what quickly became a physical, emotional game, the Celtics kept pushing along and got on the board late in the second.
On a similar play to the Cardinals' second goal, the Celtics benefitted from a fortuitous bounce at the side of the net. With 2:13 left in the second period, it was a 2-1 hockey game with a huge third period ahead.
Rather than sit back and protect the lead with dump ins and a jammed-up neutral zone, the Cardinals stuck to their game plan. They were hard on the forecheck, clean with their puck decisions and made sure they didn't beat themselves in a fast-paced third period.
The Celtics pulled their goaltender, Connor Willette (who played very well), for an extra attacker with about 90 seconds left in regulation but were unable to get a second puck in the Cardinals' net.