Hello there, dear reader, and welcome back to The Auburn Hockey Report. With students arriving back on campus, Auburn is preparing for a run to the SECHC playoffs and some exciting reveals. With the start of the spring semester’s slate of games rapidly approaching, what do fans such as yourself need to know? Dive in to find out.
To read last week’s edition, click here.
First Period: Semester Preview
With the second half of Auburn’s season about to get underway, I’ll be dedicating this segment as a brief overview of what’s at stake, who the opponents are, and what the storylines to watch are. Consider this a one-stop shop for all your preview needs; while there will obviously be future segments dedicated to the outcomes of games and the progression of this team’s destiny as the season goes on, this should serve as a helpful introduction to all the elements worth watching and caring about.
The Tide visit Columbus
Auburn kicks off the spring with a two-game home series against the Alabama Crimson Tide’s D-II CHF team. While the matchup against Tuscaloosa’s best will have to wait until February, this will nonetheless be one of Auburn’s biggest weekends of the season. With senior night seeing off a program-altering player in assistant captain and President Brandon Weis, alongside key contributors like super senior Lance O’Rourke and senior Loic Harousseau, the games already mean more than what the respective rankings of the two sides (No. 11 Auburn vs No. 25 Alabama) could ever indicate.
Throw in that this will be the second time that Auburn enters a series facing an Alabama team as a heavy favorite, and the complexion is altered yet again. With new bench boss Ryan Rutz taking his first two games as Head Coach in the organization’s most visible rivalry, this edition of The Iron Cup is sure to be a memorable one. Games are set to be streamed by 91.1 WEGL on YouTube.
Ranked road trip
After taking on Alabama at home, the Tigers will head down to Boca Raton to face the No. 8 Florida Atlantic Owls. This will be the highest ranked opponent Auburn has faced on the road all year (No. 12 South Carolina is second), so it’ll pose another tough test for a squad looking to prove that its SECHC title ambitions are more than just empty words. FAU has one of the CHF’s best scoring differentials at +60, along with the terrifyingly dominant Matias Weir, a top ten scorer in the league. While the Argentina native presents a threat worth noting, the Tigers have held two of the league’s leading scorers (Georgia Tech’s Matthew Connelly and Georgia’s Jackson Katz) to zero points in two games for a 1-0-1 record. FAU hasn’t been in the SECHC very long, but is certainly a team to watch out for. Will the Tigers be able to win one of their toughest games of the season and cement themselves as a Federation Cup participant, or will they fold under the relentless scoring attack of their foes? It’s something to watch.
February: Hate Month
In college football, rivalry week is saved for the end of the regular season, and is undoubtedly one of the best sports events of the year. “The Iron Bowl,” “The Game,” and “Bedlam” decorate the televisions of most every home in America. Yet we’re frequently left wanting for more, particularly as Auburn fans who are either clamoring for another chance to whoop ‘Bama in front of a national audience or sulking and wishing that the Tigers could get a second crack at finding a win.
Yet, the SECHC incarnation of the Auburn Tigers sees this “rivalry week” thing and does one better: a rivalry month. The Tigers’ February will proceed like so: Auburn @ Alabama D-I, Auburn @ Alabama, Auburn @ Alabama, Auburn @ Georgia, and Auburn @ Georgia. That’s a hell of a slate for any fan who wants to catch a bloodbath between some of the SEC’s fiercest rivals played out on the ice. Make no mistake; the sentiments held in football and basketball carry over to hockey as well. Auburn’s players want to beat Georgia and Alabama more than anybody else, as they should, so these games will feature plenty of high-octane, physical hockey.
The big stories here are Auburn trying to finally take down Alabama’s D-I team (the Tigers are winless in over 20 contests against the Tide’s best roster) and a rematch with No. 7 UGA, who pulled out a 3-2 overtime win in the Columbus Civic Center back on Nov. 5, 2021. The second half of the Auburn-Alabama D-II home-and-home will also be played out over this period. There’s pride, ranking, and a trip to the national tournament all on the line down the home stretch, and a fan couldn’t ask for much more.
The SECHC Tournament
This year’s iteration of the conference tournament will be played in Huntsville from March 3 to March 5, with the top eight teams in the conference being selected for bracket play. Auburn has just a single semifinal appearance in over a decade of play, but that run came in 2019, the last time the SECHC tourney was held. The sixth-seeded Tigers pulled off a monumental double overtime upset against the No. 3 South Carolina Gamecocks, but fell short against No. 2 Ole Miss.
This year, Auburn will enter the tournament with a chance to be one of the higher seeded teams, depending on how their February plays out. If they end up as the SECHC’s third or fourth seed (my current prediction), they’re projected to get one of Florida, Ole Miss, or South Carolina in the opening round. This is one of the best years of SECHC league play in recent memory, with multiple championship contenders outside of the typically dominant UGA Ice Dawgs, so the road to a title will be difficult. Still, this is as loaded and of an Auburn roster as any there’s ever been. If they’re going to get it done, 2022 or 2023 will probably be the prime window while key players like Blake Robison and J.J. Blanding are still around.
Record chases and rookie studs
As Brandon Weis and Blake Robison close in on a few all-time team leaders (as discussed in last week’s article), they’re joined in their pursuit of history by a few excellent rookies. Noah Henry, a freshman out of the USPHL’s Premier League, is on pace for the fourth highest scoring season by a 20-year-old skater in Auburn history, behind program greats Steven Verrone, Chandler Brown, and Adam Kalson. Alongside Henry, we’re seeing one of the most impressive performances in the SECHC this season out of sophomore goalie Cam Denk.
To say Camden “Cam” Denk has been a revelation in net is to undersell how impressive he’s been. The 19-year-old is on pace to break Auburn’s single season records for save percentage and goals allowed average, while also chasing rookie records for wins and starts. Some of his statistical dominance can be attributed to an improved team defense, but it’s not a stretch to say that Denk has been one of the SECHC’s three best net minders in his first full season of play. Almost all of Auburn’s goaltending records are held by 2019-20 goalie and recent graduate Hayden Harris, who played for five years and helped mentor Denk upon his arrival on the Plains. How he’ll hold up against the stiff competition of Alabama, FAU, and UGA is uncertain, but for a player who was the team’s biggest question mark in the fall, Denk is now a rock for a roster looking to compete.
Federation Cup aspirations
If the Tigers exit the SECHC Tournament rated as one of the four best teams in the CHF’s Southeast Region, they’ll have the chance to participate in the CHF’s 32-team National Title bracket. The Tigers have never made the big dance before, so this would be a monumental achievement. The tourney is scheduled for March 18-23 in West Chester, PA.
Second Period: Fireside Chat
The spring semester is underway, and that means that the club is rapidly accelerating all facets of operation.
What we’ve been working on:
- Finishing touches on Phase One of the apparel store
- Away ticketing releases for spring games
- Hiring more staff members
- Transferring leadership power due to internship departures
- Improving social media with a content calendar and player profiles
- Planning videography and photography work
- Editing and building audio and visual packages for the final two home games of the season
- Negotiating advertising and home team decor with the Columbus Ice Rink
- Reaching out to team alumni for support and building an alum network
- Preparing for a few big reveals
The final point should be released within the next week and a half. Get excited.
Third Period: Why Hockey Rules
Since I’ve used up most of the news from this week already, I figured we’d conclude with a new segment extolling the virtues of hockey by showcasing a snapshot of the best of what the game has to offer. I present to you a supercut of the the 2012 Flyers vs Penguins series; while not representative of the pinnacle of defensive play and goaltending, it’s about as chaotic as sports can get.
A few of the full games are available on YouTube, so I’ll be attaching them below for the readers with a lot of time on their hands. It’s a series full of enormous hits, fights, and scoring in one of professional sports’ most heated rivalries. What more could you ask for?
That’s all for this week. Until next time, good day, and good hockey.