December 14, 2011 - It's a new division and a new set of opponents for the varsity hockey team this season.
Front (left to right) - Brandon Welch, Alex Schlueter, Garrett Kovacic, Chad Wicker, Justin Gizinski, Kevin Dutzy, Luke Novack, Steven Fowler and Scott Stubenrauch Middle (left to right) - Connor Novack, Cody Wright, Nolan Chapman, Coach Dave Hague, Coach Rick Ignagni, Anthony Boreo, Jamison Monroe and Joey Bonino Back (left to right) - Brennen Orr, Nick Hocker, Adam Pardonoff, Montana Sampson and Austin Kurkowski. Not pictured is Stephan Fritz. (click for larger version)
Thanks to a division title last season in the Oakland Activities Association white division, the Wildcats will be spending a majority of their games battling OAA Red opponents for the division crown.
"We are going to have tough competition every night, but we are real proud of our team and we really like our team," varsity hockey coach Dave Hague said. "We think we have a great team. We have some good youth too and we are hoping for great things.
Squaring off against Oxford for a division title will be Lake Orion, Clarkston, Farmington, Birmingham United, Farmington Hills Unified, Rochester United and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek.
"It's arguably one of the best leagues in the state," assistant coach Rick Ignagni said. "You know, we are a small fish in a big pond. We really do think we are going to compete in this league."
However, Oxford won't be intimidated. They bring back a young roster featuring plenty of experience.
"We have a huge returning class with lots of veterans that have been around here for three or four years," Hague said. "You got guys like Nick Hocker and Stephan Fritz and Nolan Chapman that were around last year and had a great year on the line together."
Out of the 21 players on the roster, six are seniors, and all the seniors, except for goalie Adam Pardonoff who joined the team this season, have been in the program at least three years.
"They have seen some great days in here and they have seen some tough days in here, but the one thing they bring in is hard work everyday," Hague said. "These guys have been around for four years. They know what we expect as coaches and they know what the game expects of you as a player. So I think they are handing it down nicely and hopefully start to teach the young guys here expectations."
Oxford also has nine juniors and three sophomores and freshmen on the squad.
According to Hague, he probably has four or five juniors that have already played three seasons on varsity.
"So when you have sophomores and juniors in the lineup, these are experienced sophomores and juniors," Ignagni said. "We are excited to see these kids participate and chip in."
He added that veteran presence and experience, along with the youth continuing to chip in with solid play, was going to be the key this season.
"I don't think you are going to find many teams in the OAA Red that have as many underclassmen chipping in as we do," Ignagni said. "You really see more underclassmen in our program being a part of the winning success, and they get experience fast."
The three freshmen on the team - Scott Stubenrauch, Steven Fowler and Brandon Welch - have been proving Ignagni's statement right during the early portion of the schedule.
Hague said his expectation for the team is simple - hard work.
"Hard work beats talent sometimes...it's a quote we use a lot and we think if we work hard, we like our chances and it's up to the guys to go out and work everyday," he said. "This game isn't rocket science...hard work and a high compete level can teach you a lot."
"I promise you we will be the hardest working team in the league...hard work paid off last year and we won a league championship. If we work hard again this year, we will see what happens," he added.
These kids must be quick learners because the Wildcats are already 4-0. Their latest triumph was a 4-3 decision over Rochester Hills Stoney Creek on Wednesday, Dec. 7.
The Wildcats got out to a 2-0 lead after the first period thanks to goals by Fritz and Hocker. However, Stoney Creek roared back in the second, scoring three unanswered goals.
It looked like Oxford would drop it's opening game in OAA Red play, but Stubenrauch scored late in the second to tie the game and sophomore Cody Wright scored late in the third period to give Oxford the 4-3 win.
Pardonoff picked up his fourth win of the season after stopping 22 of 25 shots.
Up next for Oxford is a home skate against Fraser on Wednesday, Dec. 14 before heading outdoors to battle Lance Creuse North at Clark Park in Detroit on Saturday, Dec. 17.
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.