Before his state semifinal game against eventual champion Winston Churchill High School, Ryley Harper skated onto the ice, the only person sporting a black Oakdale jersey.
Harper didn't chat with anyone during the ceremony, which recognized the Maryland Student Hockey League all-state selections. He said he was completely focused on the game, the most important of his high school career, which was just minutes away.
In an up-and-down season for the Oakdale Bears, which ended in a dominant playoff run to the Maryland Student Hockey League 2A state semifinals, Harper was as consistent. His focus and dedication propelled him to the top of the Monocacy Valley Hockey League's scoring list and helped him to the distinction of The Gazette's ice hockey Player of the Year.
“He was committed to having the best year possible with the high school team,” Oakdale coach Dave Soifer said. “He was a team player, he's extremely talented and a good leader.”
Harper finished the regular season with 41 points, the only player in the MVHL to reach 40 and one of just five players to eclipse 30. His 22 assists led the league, the only player with more than 20 assists, and his 19 goals ranked third in the league.
Harper is the first Oakdale player to be an All-State selection, earning a first-team nod.
“I was kind of surprised,” Harper said. “I thought other players from our team and our conference could have been on the All-State team because we have so much talent in our league. It was a great honor.”
Harper also plays for the Frederick Freeze, an Empire Junior Hockey League team, along with Bears teammates Logan Coomes, Zach Pard and Ian Soifer. Mairead Carey was also a top performer for Oakdale.
Harper is the first to credit his teammates for his success, but his success also comes from intuition.
“For me, it's picking my spots to go in and score,” he said. “It's knowing when the best players from the other team are off the ice. You know you have to pick your spots against the other players to get some points. I work well with my teammates and we have chemistry to know where everyone is on the ice.”
Said Dave Soifer, “He's got great hands and great visibility on the ice. That's probably the biggest things. He's got a very good touch with the puck and a knack for scoring. He definitely has a knack for putting the puck in the net. He always has since he was a little kid.”
In nine of his 11 regular season games, Harper, who is more of a finesse player, scored three or more points. His best statistical game came in a 12-4 win against Linganore when he scored five goals and assisted on three others.
In the playoffs, Harper and his Freeze teammates received plenty of attention from opponents. The double and triple teams left teammates open and Harper cashed in. In four playoff games, Harper tied with Pard for the team lead in points with 15, nine coming on assists.
Oakdale's season ended in the state semifinals in a 6-0 loss to Churchill, which beat Easton, 6-1, to win the state title. But helping Oakdale to its first state semifinals game made it a successful year, Harper said.
“Looking back on the season, it was actually a very good season,” he said. “We did more than we thought we would.”