If you haven’t been paying attention to Wednesday Journal sports pages, you might not have noticed that the OPRF Hockey Club is on quite a roll. The Huskies have a 10-game unbeaten streak in Metro West (9 wins, 1 tie) that has put them in an unfamiliar position on top of the conference standings. They haven’t lost a conference game since October, have already surpassed last season’s win total with over two months remaining in the season, and are climbing toward a top 10 state ranking.
The team’s seniors are leading the way, with Jonah Rice on defense, Dean Rogers and Kevin Meegan at forward, and Tanner Houston in goal. But perhaps the biggest difference between the current Huskies and teams of the past three seasons is that seniors Phil O’Connor and Mike Slovak are playing together at OPRF for the first time in their high school careers.
O’Connor and Slovak grew up playing hockey together, but their paths diverged when they reached high school. O’Connor played for the Huskies as a freshman, but skipped his sophomore season, electing to play for the Chicago Young Americans (CYA) AAA team instead. Slovak played for the Chicago Mission AAA team during his freshman year, led the Huskies in scoring as a sophomore, then, left the team last year to play for CYA. With Slovak gone, O’Connor came back to lead the Huskies in scoring last season.
Head coach Rick Meegan started out this season with Slovak and O’Connor skating on a line with Rogers, and the line racked up 10 goals in the Huskies’ first three Metro West games. However, O’Connor went down in October with a knee injury that caused him to miss four weeks. Meegan was forced to juggle the Huskies’ lineup, and the team had to learn how to win without one of its biggest weapons.
One lineup change was to move Slovak back to his natural position on defense, taking advantage of Mike’s ability to rush the puck up the ice and his quick shot. Slovak often surprises the opposing defenses by getting off a shot when there doesn’t appear to be time or space, and he’s got the hardest shot on the team.
When O’Connor returned to the ice in November, the Huskies seemed to find another gear. Phil plays an aggressive physical game, and you’ll never see him coasting through a shift. He’s a natural scorer who draws a lot of attention from the opposing defense, opening up scoring chances for his teammates. O’Connor capped off this past weekend with hat tricks in Friday’s Metro West All-Star game and Sunday’s 7-4 win over Naperville North.
O’Connor is headed to Michigan State next year and hopes to play hockey for the Spartans. Slovak is looking at Big Ten schools as well as several schools on the east coast and hopes to play both hockey and lacrosse at the collegiate level. But that’s the farthest thing from the minds of OPRF hockey fans. Having waited four years to get O’Connor and Slovak on the ice together, they’d rather sit back and savor the last half of this promising season.