July 10th, 2018 12:00 PM
Recent OPRF grad Liam Burns, who also starred as a prolific forward on the Huskies' hockey team, is headed to Colorado State. He will play hockey for the Rams. (Photo by Dawn Gonzalez)
Eugene White Jr.
Several factors contribute to a hockey player's legacy, but none more often than personal statistics, records and accolades. Recent Oak Park and River Forest graduate and former Huskie forward Liam Burns, however, has proved otherwise.
His selfless commitment to the Huskies made him unique.
"Liam would have the ability to make an opponent look beyond foolish with his ability, but that's not anything he'd ever talk about," OPRF coach Dave Dyson said. "If you can be that good and still be called the ultimate team player, you are really a special guy."
In addition to his recognition as an all-star at the Wednesday Journal's Night of Champions in June, Burns accumulated several achievements during his four-year varsity career at OPRF. These accolades include: OPRF's all-time leading point scorer, team MVP, all-conference, league all-star, all-state, league academic award and sportsmanship award.
Perhaps Burns' most impressive achievement was earning the opportunity to play with Team Illinois at a prestigious showcase tournament this past spring.
"It was definitely an intimidating experience," Burns said. "But I think it made me a much better hockey player. It was much faster, higher-paced, more physical, and kind of an independent experience. It was a maturing experience in a way."
Playing at such a high level served as a great motivator for Burns since he was able to compete with other top players in the state. Burns also spoke with several scouts about a possible career in AA or AAA level hockey.
"I just wanted to go get my education," Burns said. "I knew I could continue playing competitive hockey in college."
Burns will attend Colorado State University in Fort Collins this fall. He plans to continue his hockey career alongside OPRF teammates Spencer Smith and Max Goldstein, who will also attend CSU and play hockey for the Rams.
Last season, Burns had 38 goals and 51 assists for a total of 89 points for OPRF, while Smith (7 goals, 29 assists) and Goldstein (44 goals, 40 assists) also played major roles for the Huskies, who finished 37-11 in 2018. Ricky Jones, who will be a junior at OPRF, led the team in goals with 54.
While much different than skating the ice at Ridgeland Common Recreating Complex, the transition to college hockey should be no problem for Burns. His ability as a consistent playmaker should translate to the next level.
"I don't think there was a kid I've ever coached who had a harder work ethic and a more driven desire to succeed," Dyson said. "He was a model player in that regard. Liam was always driven to get better. By the time he left, he was a really complete and well-rounded player."
Serving as a catalyst for the Huskies' turnaround during Dyson's tenure, Burns credits much of his success to the community and coaches behind the scenes.
"I think it's just a great community," Burns said. "When I went to OPRF my freshman year, I already knew a lot of kids from the park district team. It was competitive but it wasn't so much (about) winning. It was more of developing you as a hockey player and person and building good relationships."
Burns described the team as more of a core unit where quality friendships lie at its foundation. Each Sunday before a game, the team would strategize over a hearty breakfast.
As the Huskies look ahead to a new season in the fall, Dyson admits Burns will be missed.
"Regardless of his skill, Liam is the ultimate team player," Dyson said.
Burns exemplifies the current state of OPRF hockey. On and off the ice, he displays humility, accountability and determination. Consequently, Burns leaves the program as a paradigm of excellence for future Huskies to follow.