Whether it’s professional, college or high school sports, a common practice among new coaches is to offer a blueprint of development that typically requires at least a few years to reach full maturation.
Currently in his second season as head coach of the OPRF Hockey Club, Dave Dyson is about halfway to accomplishing his three-year plan for the Huskies.
“When you take over a program, you look at it as a multi-year plan,” Dyson said. “The first year is about changing the culture, the second year focuses on fixing the hockey, and the third year is about pushing it to the next level of truly becoming a great hockey club.”
Whether Dyson and the Huskies reach their target date for excellence, the program seems to be headed in a positive direction.
Although the Huskies lost to Sandburg 6-2 on Sunday at the Paul Hruby Ice Arena at Ridgeland Common, the team showed flashes of considerable potential.
OPRF battled the highly regarded Eagles to a 2-2 tie late in the second period before Sandburg scored four unanswered goals. The Huskies have a 14-15-2 record in the 13-team Illinois West Division of the Illinois High School Hockey League.
After Sandburg (17-4), currently fifth in the Illinois West Division, scored first at 6:31 of the first period, the Huskies’ Liam Burns responded with a breakaway goal off an assist from Dan Johnson to tie the score at 1-1 with 3:12 left in the first period. OPRF seized its only lead, 2-1, when Roark Leutgens scored a goal, assisted by Riley Moran and Matt Javor.
Playing in front of a large crowd on home ice, the Huskies fell short of an upset victory because of a rash of penalties (14). The Eagles also had more shots on goal, 42-17, than OPRF.
“That’s the most penalties we’ve had in one game all season,” Dyson said. “Sandburg scored five of their goals on the power play. They are a big, physical and fast team, but we also had some self-defeating behavior. We are normally a pretty smart, disciplined team but not tonight.”
Despite the loss, OPRF is an entertaining team to watch. The Huskies have several skilled players, including George Brennan, Blaine Burkett and Johnson, plus promising freshmen like Spencer Smith and Burns. Brennan is a terrific two-way player who leads the Huskies with 23 goals and 13 assists, while Burkett (11 goals, 11 assists) and Johnson also provide scoring punch. Javor brings size, skill and toughness to the lineup. Michael DeAlba (16 goals, 11 assists) is another key contributor.
Defensively, Anthony Rorres (currently injured) is one of the top defensemen in the state. Goalie Jacob Rosas, who never played hockey before this season, has done an admirable job between the pipes.
Ben Ostler, Sam Phifer, Alexander Staples, Grey Small, Eric Mulshine, Teddy Economos, CJ Pospisil, Paul Kovatchis, Addison Diztel and Brian Cassidy comprise the rest of the team.
“We’re definitely a young team so we are trying to build the foundation of a winning atmosphere,” Brennan said. “We have done a good job of beating the lesser teams, but we need to beat the top teams in our conference like Sandburg, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie.
“I think the hockey is there, we just need to eliminate mental mistakes like stupid penalties.”
Johnson, one of the few seniors on the team, has embraced the dual role of team captain/playmaker.
“I remember looking up to the older players when I joined our team,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to be a leader because we have such a young team. Coach Dyson has done a great job in his first couple of years. He’s really turning the program around.”
With the playoffs only a few weeks away, OPRF is a definite dark horse.
“I think we have been playing better hockey lately,” Burkett said. “We have the ability to play with the best teams. I think we have a good shot to do well in the playoffs.”
The OPRF Hockey Club also benefits from a true home ice advantage by playing at Hruby Ice Arena.
“The old [Ridgeland Common] rink was really glum and we didn’t get a lot of fans,” Brennan said. “Now we’re playing in a great new rink with the best ice surface. We have our own custom team room.
“More fans are starting to come to our games. The whole place is special and feels like home. It’s really cool because as Ridgeland Common has been reborn, so has our hockey club program.”