By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
Featuring 12 seniors on their 23-player roster, the 2020-21 Oxford Avondale United (OAU) hockey team is the most experienced head coach Derek Billis has had in his three-year tenure.
Beginning their season with back-to-back road contests, the first of which came on February 10 at the Hartland Sports Center against the Fenton-Linden Griffins, these upperclassmen hit the ice ready to go, registering 14 goals in their first two games.
Against the Griffins, OAU held on for a hard-fought 4-3 victory, killing off a penalty with less than three minutes to play.
Seniors Jake Billis, Derek’s son, Ryan Honig, Cameron Paquette, and Nathan Poplars scored the goals for OAU, with netminder Brett Dinges, another senior, recording 42 saves.
Traveling to Lakeland Arena two days later, February 12, to face Walled Lake Central Waterford United, OAU put the extent of their offensive firepower on full display, cruising to a 10-5 win, which included nine goals in the first two periods.
Junior Ben Hepp racked up six points in the game, two goals and four assists, and Billis, Paquette, and senior Connor Vittetoe each tallied two goals. Poplars and senior Brendan Vogler, the son of team statistician Dave Vogler, added the other two.
Drawing his second-straight start in net, Dinges saved 18-of-19 shots in about a period-and-a-half of action, before departing to allow senior Nathan Klinger to see some time between the posts.
The program’s first home game came on February 13, against the Bloomfield Hills Black Hawks at the Detroit Skating Club.
One of the top teams in the Oakland Activities Association (OAA), the Black Hawks won, 6-2, handing OAU their first loss of the season at 2-1.
Bloomfield Hills led, 1-0, after the first period, which are 17 minutes long at the high school level, before OAU tied the game with 11:42 to play in the second, courtesy of Honig’s second goal of the season.
Unfortunately, just a minute and five seconds later, the Black Hawks moved back in front and added two more goals in the frame to take a 4-1 lead after two periods.
Poplars scored OAU’s other goal with 7:54 to play, but it was not enough for OAU to win their home-opener.
Juniors Kyle Lucia, Jonah Shapiro, and Drew Speaks scored two goals apiece for Bloomfield Hills.
“Offensively, we can put the puck in the net,” Billis said of the team after the game with the Black Hawks. “They can really do some damage this year, I think. I mean, we put 50 shots on them tonight and only got two goals. So, hats off to their goalie, their team played good, too. Offensively, yeah, but defensively, we’re still working on it. We gave up some coverage, lacked in coverage, and they scored on them. As soon as you do that, it’s hard to come back.”
Through three games, Paquette leads the team with eight points, while Billis, Hepp, and Poplars each have five. Continued production out of this depth will be key for the team as they navigate the upcoming schedule, which includes seven more games in the month of February.
“Last year, we ended up with some injuries and the guys didn’t make it, so it was hard to see how things went,” Billis said. “Bringing in a couple of new guys and really having them step and being able to put out two really solid lines and a good third line, it’s making a big difference for us this year. It’s going to wear down some teams, just like tonight, we really had a lot of chances and with the lineup we had the last couple of years, we wouldn’t have had that. We’ll put out those lines and just try to keep the firepower on them.”
Allowed by the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) this season, provided they occur on a non-school day, OAU had a doubleheader on Monday, February 15 against Troy at the Troy Sports Center at 2 p.m. and Stoney Creek at the Detroit Skating Club at 8:30 p.m. Results were not available in time for this edition, but will be discussed in the February 24 issue.
Looking ahead, OAU is slated to host Walled Lake Central Waterford United on Friday, February 19 at 7:25 p.m. and West Bloomfield the next day, Saturday, February 20, at 8:10 p.m.
The program will hit the road on Tuesday, February 23 to battle Farmington at the Farmington Hills Ice Arena at 4:30 p.m.
By Teddy Rydquist