The Auburn Tigers vs. the Georgia Bulldogs: the Oldest Rivalry in the South. These two universities have battled one another in athletic competition since the dawn of the Southeastern Conference, competing for supremacy in football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and softball. The fervor with which fans on either side of this contentious relationship relish defeating one another is almost unmatched in the world of sport.
For Auburn Hockey, this is not just another game. Even for a group that prides itself on physicality and a willingness to do the dirty work, the little things, playing the Bulldogs poses an entirely new level of challenge. When two of the SECHC’s most exciting programs clash right along the state line dividing Alabama and the Peach State on Friday, it’ll befit the moniker that was once made synonymous with the sport of hockey via a TIME cover: a war on ice.
The story of “The Border War,” the rivalry’s new title, is an interesting one, and its origins are indicative of a shift in the winds of club hockey within the conference and on a larger scale. For so long, Auburn has been the decided little brother to Georgia on and off the ice, lacking the ability and supporting structure to win against their foes donning the Red & Black. The Bulldogs have a track record of excellence, with multiple SECHC Championships and a fanbase dedicated enough to command a new ice rink for the team to call home. The Tigers, by comparison, have been a vagabond team, adrift without a defined organization backing them.
This is an Auburn team that’s spent time on the cusp of folding, one that allowed football scores against them in hockey games, and one that’s never seen a deep run into the postseason. Outside from a few years in recent memory where the Plains saw a bevy of talented players to buoy their successes (including some victories against UGA), there really hasn’t been much reason for hope that the power dynamic would ever be altered.
When that same “little brother” decided upon a name for the rivalry, produced a brand new logo, and worked tirelessly to promote it, it signaled the long-awaited change that loyal Auburn hockey fans wanted. The Tigers are finally taking the initiative and making waves in their neck of the woods with a revamped approach to the way they do practically everything.
Said Auburn captain Blake Robison on what importance this game holds: “Everybody has their own opinion about what a win would mean for us, but for the guys in the room it’s very simple. We want to beat Georgia to send a message to the entire league. Regardless of a rivalry win and improving our record, we want to prove that we’re a dangerous team.“
Other members of the team’s leadership echoed these sentiments. Assistant captains Ryan Scott and Brandon Weis expressed their respect for Georgia as a promoter of hockey in the South, but quickly made sure to express their single-minded pursuit of defeating them.
Scott referred to the Bulldogs as “a huge test” and “a stepping stone for where we want to go.” Weis, on his admiration for what Georgia has built, said “that all goes away as soon as you get hit in the mouth. You don’t really care. I want to win.”
Georgia enters this game with the highest ranking in the SECHC and ranked No. 8 nationally, out of 39 total teams. With a +40 goal differential and well over 200 penalty minutes to go with a 9-2-0 record, beating the Dawgs won’t be an easy task.
The Tigers sit at No. 14 in that same national ranking, and at fifth in the conference. While far from being a totally unheralded challenger, Auburn still isn’t considered among club hockey’s elite. This game marks a prime chance for a program looking to to assert itself as a legitimate powerhouse to establish the stable tradition and culture that’s eluded it thus far.
For fans, it’ll be a treat just to watch names like Georgia’s Jackson Katz, who leads all SECHC players in points, and Auburn’s Noah Henry and Cam Denk, two young cornerstones that have provided plenty of flash through the season’s fledgeling weeks.
In a game where the result is quite uncertain, only one thing is for sure: “War” is an apt description for the show we’re bound to get this Friday evening in Columbus.