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OPRF is set to Unite & Conquer under new head coach Mike Murphy

By Ross Forman, 07/19/22, 9:15AM CDT


Huskies move from the Scholastic Hockey League to Illinois West High School Hockey League

Mike Murphy brings more than 20-years of coaching experience to the Oak Park and River Forest (OPRF) High School bench as the team’s new head coach, though it’s his first-ever varsity head coaching job

The 45-year-old Lombard resident was the JV Director and JV Head Coach for BG/H/W, a co-op team of students from Buffalo Grove, Hersey and Wheeling that played in last season’s 16-team invitation-only JV State Tournament.

“I’m 100 percent excited. I don’t even know why I would be nervous,” Murphy said. “I don’t really put pressure on myself to have a record that determines whether I was successful or not, whether a team was successful or not. My success is almost fully determined by the excitement and the enthusiasm that comes from the season that we provide, which is the whole picture, including the team BBQs, fun in the locker room, etc.

“At the end of the year, sure, I love to win, but that’s not the end all, be all. The BG (JV team last season) lost in double-overtime (of the state tournament), in an incredible game. There wasn’t one kid on the team who thought, after we were eliminated, that the season was a failure. I know that’s what is going to happen this year at OPRF. We’ll win some games; we’ll lose some games. We’ll probably lose our last game of the season; almost every team does. But the guys will grow. They will learn what it means to be a teammate, what it means to pour everything into something and see that develop, get the most out of it. We will have incredible memories this year.”

Their memories will be off ice, too, Murphy said.

“The way I coach is different from a lot of other coaches,” he said. “I bring a communications and psychology background to coaching. I want every one of the families on my teams to have a great experience. I communicate with my families from day one that this is what I’m about. I never let a player think he’s left out.”

The Vegas Knights, from their inaugural NHL season in 2017-18, “are a perfect example of how I coach,” Murphy said, proudly noting that the Knights that season shocked the hockey world advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals, thanks to the team’s energy. “They were able to create such a buzz. What they did was, they identified what they were and who they were, and they created a belief around it.

“Everyone must believe in the program and be positive about the program. We can’t focus on the mistakes that we make on the ice; we can’t blame each other. We must eliminate all negativity.”

And he will empower the players, so they know it is their team, not that they are just playing for a dictator coach. Such that, he often takes votes on how things are going to be done, such as, dryland training.

“It’s interesting with high school kids … when you start to empower them to help run things, their attitude really changes; they really play better because they’re walking into something that they’re taking ownership in, not something that one person, the head coach, is running.”

That leads to a 2x2 table, which is a Murphy tradition, started years ago as a team’s trophy team, though it morphed from there. When he was coaching for the Bruins, the team had the phrase We Are One painted on it.

That season, Murphy said the team was inundated with dumb penalties. “The table became a punishment, so whoever had the most penalties had to carry this silly, cumbersome table to the next game,” Murphy said.

He left last season’s table with BG/H/W.

But the concept is starting at OPRF.

He wanted to add We Are One, but the OPRF players shot that down.

Instead, they opted this year’s slogan: Unite & Conquer.

A table will be built for, and by, OPRF with the team saying.

“The energy so far has been awesome, tons of excitement,” said Murphy, who noted that the team has been playing 3-on-3 games over the summer.

“We’re playing to win a state title this season. Is that a reasonable goal? I’m not sure. But I would like to make the top eight in the state; that’s my goal, for sure. Is the season a failure if that does now happen? No.

“Determining whether the season is a positive one or a failure is based on the energy at the end of the year, if it is equal to the energy at the beginning of the year. I really want to sustain the energy and enthusiasm, so they cannot wait for the spring season and to try again (for a state championship) the following season. Then I’ve done my job.”

Murphy added: “I’ve never had a sub-.500 record and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I just don’t think about what our record is going to be at the end of the year. I don’t put numbers on success.”

Murphy interviewed for the OPRF job before last season. This time, the club said, Welcome, to the admitted player’s-coach.

“Hockey is about creating an experience in a young man’s life that not only teaches teamwork, but also, how to become an adult,” he said. “Too often the focus is how much they’re winning.

“The core of my coaching is teaching that hockey is a learning experience; it’s about something bigger than the sport itself. Through hockey and this approach, the players grow into young adults who are ready to do different things in the world.”

Speaking of different, OPRF will have a new league to tackle when games start in the fall. The Huskies went 8-19 in the 10-team Scholastic Hockey League last season, finishing in 9th place, only ahead of Barrington. OPRF will move to the Illinois West High School Hockey League, which saw Waubonsie/Metea captured the regular-season title and Maine Township skate away with the Varsity West Cup.

“I really wanted to go back to the Illinois West League, play more locally, play against more teams that are of similar talent-level to us,” Murphy said. “It’s not hard to make a case that the Scholastic Hockey League is the top high school hockey league in the state and one of the top high school hockey leagues in the country. The league is loaded.

“But Illinois West has some very talented, skilled teams, too.”

Last season, the 13-team Illinois West League also featured powers Glenbard, Wheaton West, Naperville North and Neuqua Valley, among others.

“Overall, I think we are going to be deep, a senior-led team,” Murphy said. “We might lack in scoring early on, but that will come around.

“We could and should have many breakout players this year.”

OPRF tryouts will be held in mid-August.

The Huskies this season will have to rebuilt from the graduation of David Andolina, who tallied 36 goals, 16 assists in 27 Scholastic League games. His 52-points was second-most in the league, only 1 point behind Loyola Gold’s Jack Gustafson.

Seniors forwards Aaron Jenkyns and Drew McConville will, no doubt, pick up some of the offense that Andolina carried last season.

“Watch out for us; we will be strong. We will be a very scary team by the end of the season,” Murphy said. “The chemistry, particularly within the core of the team, is fantastic. These guys absolutely love playing for each other.”

That should lead to many wins this winter for OPRF at Ridgeland Common Ice Arena. Most important for the Huskies is to grab the W when they battle cross-town rival Fenwick, especially since that best-of-3 series has grown to be too big to be settled at Ridgeland and, instead, will be settled at larger, neutral rinks.