November 28, 2012 - Oxford High School varsity hockey team should have plenty of skill, leadership and grit to get the Wildcats through the annual OAA grind.
Where they finish in the standings is anyone's guess at this point, but optimism is certainly sky-high in Oxford.
"We're a veteran team and we really like our team speed and the chemistry amongst the guys appears good," said OHS head coach Dave Hague, now in his 10th year as the Wildcats' coach. "We can talk expectations and excitement all we want, though. To me, that doesn't mean a thing. We have a very difficult schedule this year and the OAA Red division is going to be very strong top to bottom. There is no doubt we're going to have to earn every bit of success.
"The only thing we're given is the opportunity and it will be up to our locker room to take advantage of it."
Oxford junior forward Cody Wright feels from a player's perspective that the Wildcats are primed for success.
"I think we have a solid team that can go really far in the standings this year," said Wright. "I think our tough schedule will just raise our compete level and make us a better team. Plus, I think we can play with all the teams as well. We have three solid goaltenders, four forward lines and strong defense. We have a lot of seniors, so I think experience will play a big factor."
Senior forward Stephan Fritz, one of the team's tri-captains this year along with senior forward Connor Novack and senior defenseman Brennen Orr, also sees the Wildcats as a team that will be tough to play against.
"I feel like we're going to be a very strong team that is always competitive," Fritz said. "We are going to be a tight-knit team that works harder than anyone else and that's what will lead to our success. Obviously, we are in a very strong division, but that is only going to make us better. When we have opportunities to play teams that are well-matched against us, we perform better. Everyone knows that they have to be on the top of their game and it makes things very fun for us to compete and win against other talented teams."
Wildcats' assistant coach Rick Ignagni, who has been with the program since its inception 12 years ago, has seen the ups and downs at Oxford. He's hoping this season has more of the same success OHS experienced during the 2011-12 season.
"This team is the closest in talent from top to bottom," Ignagni said. "We move the puck well and we have speed. Years past, we could easily identify the top line or two, but this year, I see that it's going to come down to who is competing the hardest that will get the most ice. This year's team features 12 or 13 seniors and most of them have played together here for three or four years and many played together in youth hockey. These guys are about as close and tight as you would want a team to be and still be coachable."
Oxford kicked off regular-season play with three wins this past weekend against Canadian high schools in the Kitchener, Ont., area. The Wildcats' home opener is Wednesday, Nov. 28 against Bloomfield United at the Rochester Onyx.
Ignagni added that team goals are set to exceed expectations and this year's aspirations are not out of reach.
"We plan on winning the league, but you can't measure success simply by wins and losses," said Ignagni. "These boys will have a memorable experience both on and off the ice. We make sure they realize how blessed they are to play the greatest game on earth. Always strive to be the best, don't settle for average and if you play, play to win and always compete. If they remember those simple principles, they succeed off the ice, too.
"Our senior class no doubt will be our strength. I have been with the program 12 years and we have never graduated 12 seniors. They have a tremendous amount of maturity for high school kids) and there are no egos here. I think the other strength is Dave. He knows the game as good as anybody and makes sure these guys have an experience they never forget."
The team's three freshmen – goalie Nick Barrett, defenseman Ryan Kimbrough and forward Tyler Majewski – will be brought along at the proper pace.
"Our freshmen are going to be interesting to see develop," explained Ignagni. "In years past, we counted on freshmen to chip in regularly because of numbers. This year, I think we can develop them properly and introduce them into the league at the right time."
Overall, the confidence level for the Wildcats is through the roof right now with games on tap.
Fritz said this season has the potential to be a special one in Oxford.
"Our strengths this year are going to come largely from two main components," said Fritz. "First off, we're a smart, hard-working team that has a very high aspiration to go far this year. Secondly, we are an extremely close team and the fact that we all care about one another helps us out when we're going to battle in games for each player on the team.
"No one person is more important than the other, but all of us together with a mindset to win is going to be huge in our success this year."
For more information on the Oxford High School varsity hockey team, please visit www.oxfordhockey.com