By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
Jumping into the thick of it before the calendar even struck Thanksgiving, the Oxford/Avondale United hockey program opened their season with three games in a four-day span from Nov. 22 to Nov. 25.
Traveling to the Kensington Valley Ice House in Brighton to battle the Walled Lake Western Warriors on Nov. 22, OAU began their campaign with a 7-1 loss.
Featuring chippy play right off the bat, the first period consisted of plenty of four-on-four action and power play opportunities for both
squads. Trailing 3-0 in the second, sophomore Ben Hepp scored OAU’s only goal of the evening off a pair of nice passes from juniors Nathan Poplars and Jake Billis.
Facing a 43-shot barrage, junior goaltender Austin Spivey made 36 saves in the opener.
Presented with the chance to immediately put this performance behind them, the boys took to the ice again the following night, Nov. 23, to clash with the West Bloomfield Lakers.
Taking place at the familiar confines of the Detroit Skating Club – OAU’s home rink – in Bloomfield Township, the team fell to the Lakers, 3-2 in overtime, but delivered a much more spirited showing.
Feeding off the energy from a strong contingent of classmates who made the trip, OAU struck first when Billis set up junior Ryan Honig (Avondale) for a power play tally in the first period.
Drawing the start in place of Spivey, fellow junior Brett Dinges kept the score at 1-0 until the Lakers evened it at 1-a piece one minute into the third period.
Beginning the extra period down two skaters due to the carrying over of two penalties, senior J.P. Ayar found the back of the net to give West Bloomfield the win. While tough to lose a game in such close fashion, Dinges posted a tremendous 43 saves, standing on his head for head coach Derek Billis’ team throughout the night.
Their second straight home contest, the boys welcomed in the Marysville Vikings to DSC on Nov. 25. A high-scoring affair, OAU nearly kept pace but dropped their third straight to open the year, 6-5.
Scoring just 30 seconds into the action, the Vikings seized the early momentum. Courtesy of Poplars and Honig, Hepp evened the action at one at the 9:48 mark.
Less than two minutes later, Marysville took back the lead. Each club added another goal in the opening frame to allow Evan West’s team to head into the locker room with a 3-2 advantage.
The Vikings took their first two-goal lead of the night with 9:39 left in the second period when OAU’s reliance on their penalty kill unit finally caught up with them. Allowing OAU to reclaim some of the energy in the building, senior defenseman Donovin Thompson (Avondale) hit junior Brian Budde (Avondale) with a great outlet pass and he was able to slip the puck past the Marysville netminder, 4-3.
Giving himself a hat trick on the night, Hepp tallied his third goal – assisted by senior forward Matt Schultz and sophomore linemate Freddie Fresard – to pull OAU even at four early in the final period.
Responding quickly to an OAU goal yet again, the Vikings retook the lead about a minute later. Pulling Dinges for the benefit of an extra attacker, Marysville added an empty-net goal with 50 seconds left to widen the gap to 6-4.
Generating a rush on the ensuing faceoff, Hepp found the netting for the fourth time with 42 seconds to play, but OAU could not come up with the equalizer.
Making his second consecutive start in goal, Dinges recorded 23 saves.
Hoping to burst through and make their appearance known in the win column, OAU next hosts the Notre Dame Prep Fighting Irish on Dec. 5 at 7:40 p.m.
Due to their loss to West Bloomfield, OAU sits in a tie for fourth-place in the Oakland Activities Association White Division at 0-1 (zero points) in league play. By virtue of their victory, the Lakers are currently tied atop the White standings with the Bloomfield Hills Black Hawks and Troy United at two points.