Trailing Wheaton West 3-1 in the third period at Ridgeland Common, the Oak Park and River Forest High School hockey team battled back to tie the game in regulation at 3-all. Although they ultimately lost 4-3 (Wheaton West won the shootout 3-2), the Huskies showed plenty of fight en route to salvaging a point in the standings.
Promising freshman RJ Jones triggered the rally with a power play goal from the right side on a pass from Liam Burns with 4:47 left in regulation. Just 27 seconds later, Harrison Proctor scored a goal off an assist from defenseman Sam Guillot to tie the game at 3-3.
"We worked hard all game," Jones said. "We got our power play going and we found the back of the net. On my goal, I was trying to look for the point and took a slap shot. I was happy to find the back of the net through the five hole."
Jones and Burns each had a goal and an assist, while goaltender Owen Bell stopped 21 of 24 shots on goal by Wheaton West.
Burns leads the team with 23 goals and 24 assists this season, while Jones has tallied 21 goals and 13 assists. Forward Hank Burkett is second in assists (14) and Proctor is third in goals (11).
In addition to their balanced lineup, the Huskies have established a reputation as a gritty team from the puck drop till the end of the game.
"It's happened a lot where we come back from being down in a game," forward Adam Susman said. "We're a good team and we can beat these teams. We don't quit. If we're down, we go to the locker room in between periods, talk it over and come out swinging in the next period."
In fact, OPRF (22-13-3, 14-5-2 IHSHL West Division) has been fairly consistent all season. No matter which line coach Dave Dyson puts out on the ice, every shift has played hard and been productive.
"We've been feeling really good," forward PJ Gonzalez said. "The team as a whole has been looking really good. We lost a lot of top end talent from last year like we do every year.
"This season, a lot more guys are scoring and all the lines are firing on all cylinders. Everyone is contributing and it definitely feels like a team effort."
The Huskies enjoyed a particularly cool experience when they beat Waubonsie Valley 4-3 on Jan. 2 at the Bobby Hull Ice Rink in Cicero. The outdoor game experience was one that the players will always remember.
"It was really cool and definitely a different experience," Jones said. "Playing outdoors is so different because of the conditions. It's a different style of play. You just have to keep adapting to the ice surface, and our team did a really good job of that."
Gonzalez added: "It was really fun. To go up and beat a team like Waubonsie, who we've struggled against historically, was great for our team. To do it in that setting was even more special."