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Late OPRF rally tops Neuqua Valley

By Curt Herron, 12/10/22, 4:30PM CST


Oak Park and River Forest had a bad habit in Thursday's Illinois West High School Hockey League game with visiting Neuqua Valley which kept it behind for much of the contest, and that was allowing a goal not long after it had just evened things up.

While the first two instances of that allowed the Huskies to be tied with Neuqua Valley for just 21 seconds at 1-1 and for only 2:05 at 2-2, when the hosts pulled even for the third time at 3-3, they responded in a completely different fashion.

After tying it at 3-3 with 5:40 remaining, OPRF scored two more times over the next 5:01 and that allowed it to withstand a goal from Neuqua with just 11 seconds to go to capture a wild 5-4 victory at Ridgeland Commons Recreation Complex's  Paul Hruby Ice Arena in Oak Park.

Andrew McConville scored goals to tie the game at 2-2 and 3-3, Weston Kirk connected with 1:50 to go to put his team ahead for good and Aaron Jenkyns added a big insurance tally with just 39 seconds to go, which was important since Rocco Romita scored his second goal of the game with 11 seconds left to provide brief drama on the ensuing faceoff.

J.P. Ferraro scored the first goal for the Huskies to tie it at 11:04 in the second period, following an assist from Sameer Chand. Samuel Busch and Jenkyns helped out on their second goal at 7:00 in the middle period while Elias Wallichs had a hand in both of the next two goals, with Kirk assisting on the goal that tied it at 3-3 and Miles Clary helped on Kirk's goal that put them ahead for good and Kirk capped his late flurry of points by assisting on Jenkyn's late goal.

Timothy Coggin provided Neuqua Valley with the only first-period goal at 6:52, thanks to assists from Trenton Fisk and Keith Rozhon. Chase Rosenberg gave the visitors a 2-1 lead at 10:43 of the second period and Romita connected at 4:55 of that period on a power play, following an assist from Sahil Bari, and Romita scored the game's final goal on another power play.

The Huskies were sent to the box often, drawing eight penalties to four for Neuqua. The visitors had the upper hand on shots by a 28-22 margin with the first and third periods being pretty even with the teams tied 6-6 in the first and the hosts with a 7-6 edge in the third while Neuqua had a 16-9 advantage during the second period.

This was the second game in the Gold Standings after both lost to Sandburg last week, Neuqua by a 3-2 score on Saturday and OPRF 3-1 on Sunday. Coach Mike Murphy's Huskies broke a five-game losing streak with the dramatic come from behind victory while it was a tough turn of events for coach Dan Granato's squad.

"We're not a super physical team, but we are real creative," Murphy said. "We're really learning our way in the defensive end, it's been something that we're trying to shore up, and even today we struggled a little bit. 

"We also have to get energy from scoring. This is a game of momentum, and we feel like we get scored on right we score all of the time and it happened again today twice, but they ended up figuring it out in the third. 

Hockey is like a fight. One guy will lay in a punch and it's the one punch that turns the momentum and the other guy can't get off his heels. We were due. We've had some tough tournaments and we'd lost our last five games. So this was really helpful today.”

Granato took the long view after Thursday’s game.

“It was a hard played game by both sides. We had some chances early to build on our lead and couldn't get one by their goaltender,” Granato said. “To their credit they stuck with their game plan and earned the win. 

“We’re finding it hard to win games right now, but playing the top teams in our league the next month and a half should really help us grow as team. I'm confident in our group though. We will start to win more.”

Things were looking good for Neuqua Valley after it took a 3-2 lead with 4:55 left in the middle period following a power play goal by Romita, which was assisted by Bari.

The visitors kept the pressure on Huskies goalie Henry Mickus with Bari, Fisk and Coggin providing some of the best attempts during the late stages of the second period.

After Henry Metric nearly tied things early in the final period, Ky Kralovic, Coggin and Romita  applied pressure on Mickus while Wallichs and Jenkyns kept Neuqua goalie Grady Sulkin busy on the other side of the ice.

The score remained that way for over 16 minutes before McConville got free after being set up by Wallichs and Kirk and sped to the net before firing in a liner with 5:40 remaining to tie it.

After Tyler Geers and Romita were turned away, the hosts took the lead for the first time with 1:50 left when Kirk connected following passes from Wallichs and Clary to make it 4-3.

Then with 0:39 left, Jenkyns gave OPRF a two-goal lead, off a pass from Kirk. But Neuqua continued to battle and Romita capitalized on the Huskies being down a man and put in a shot from the side with 0:11 left to conclude the scoring.

"Kind of the momentum just took over the game a little there," Jenkyns said of the crazy final minutes. "It's good that we came out on top and it was good that we got some goals at the end.

"We've been short guys all year, so it was good to just play gritty and come out on top. These guys are really relentless. Coming into the third period, you could see we're still battling and no one was giving up. 

"We've been in a little bit of a slump in the last couple of games so we needed to turn it around and now was the time to do it."

Fisk and Rosenberg had good attempts in the opening period for Neuqua while McConville and Jenkyns both applied pressure for OPRF. 

Coggin scored the first goal with 6:52 left in the initial period following assists from Fisk and Rozhon. Bari and Tim Skipper looked to add to the early advantage while Ivan Gillman tried to even things up for the hosts.

The second period definitely saw the most good scoring opportunities, although the sides combined for four goals in each of the last two periods.

Neuqua got good shots from Nathan Santos and Coggin while OPRF countered with threats from Connor Jones and McConville and before Ferraro connected with 11:04 left in the period off of an assist from Chand to tie it at 1-1. However, Rosenberg responded 21 seconds to score an unassisted goal to put his team back up by a goal.

The visitors got good attempts from Rosenberg, Bari, Jake Johnson and Skipper and the hosts answered with threatening attempts from Jenkyns, McConville, Kirk and Griffin Lane before finally tying things at 2-2 with 7:00 left in the middle period following a goal by McConville that was set up by assists from Busch and Jenkyns.

"When you're down in a game and get a couple and then keep that momentum going, it's a good feeling," said Ferraro, who also plays baseball and is a catcher for the Huskies. "It's been kind of a grind season, so it feels really good to get one like this. This will be a good confidence builder for us.

"To see Drew McConville get that third goal to tie it up and that was the nastiest goal that I've seen. We were all on the bench, just shocked. He's our best shooter and he puts in so much work and a great guy, so to see him pull that out of his toolbox was a good feeling.

"Coach Murphy is a great thing for this program. He can get on us at times, but he's positive all the time. He brings a great energy to the locker room."

Neuqua hosts rival Waubonsie/Metea on Saturday at Canlan Sports at 7 p.m. while OPRF hosts Hinsdale Central on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Ridgeland Commons.