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The Auburn Hockey Report 1/24/22

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It was a weekend of elephantine proportions.

Image via Matt Austin, Auburn Hockey

After keeping a regular schedule of dropping each Auburn Hockey Report at 1 p.m. CT every Friday, I decided to divert my usual routine in favor of releasing something following this weekend’s games. I’m thankful I did, because many of you now reading this would have otherwise totally missed out on this column. It’s been an absolutely bonkers few days for news surrounding this team, so we’ve got plenty to talk about. Let’s dive in.

To read last week’s edition, click here.

First Period: Weekend Recap

This segment isn’t going to be a traditional recap of what went on in this weekends games, outside of a basic “hey, here are the final scores, yadda yadda.” If you’re looking for that, read this article from Griffin Kelly and myself on the team website. Instead, I’ll be discussing the important narrative points of Saturday and Sunday’s happenings, on and off of the rink, within the context of the season and overall direction of the program. I figure that’s the most helpful introduction to the new fan who’s looking for what narratives they should care about for the remainder of the season. Let’s start with the games, and all the weird stuff that happened in them.

Rabid fans, penalties galore, and one big “what if”

The Auburn Tigers defeated the Alabama Frozen Tide twice in its final home series of the season, winning 7-1 and 6-4 on Saturday and Sunday respectively. This was quintessential “80s hockey,” which I use to refer to games where there’s an avalanche of special teams play, physicality, and goal scoring. The second game in particular fit that bill, with the two teams holding a 4-4 tie going late into the third period.

I could talk about the dominance of Noah Henry and the top line, or the magical season that Cam Denk is having, but again, that’s discussion that you’d find in previous articles or on the team site. What you won’t find is the weirdness, which is what hockey fans tend to savor above almost all else. This sport is fast, physical, and a blur of action, but above all it’s a canvas for God to make the funniest and oddest things you could think of a reality.

Goalie Cam Denk is having a rookie season for the ages, as profiled in the spring season preview from the previous edition of this column.
Image via Matt Austin, Auburn Hockey

Let’s begin with a look at “The Tundra,” Auburn Hockey’s emerging student section. While their name is an obvious reference to “The Jungle,” the basketball student section rife with lunatic enthusiasm, The Tundra has established its own brand of insanity, namely by destroying the rink by being too excited.

The Jungle camps out in front of Auburn Arena and brings the noise; The Tundra breaks the arena and makes sure the goalie knows he’s a sieve. Two takes on what makes Auburn fans great.
Image via Matt Austin, Auburn Hockey

This began in the Auburn/UGA rivalry game played in Columbus (AKA “The Border War”) back in November, when the raucous group of Alpha Sigma Phi brothers that founded the group broke a stanchion and ended up pushing part of the partition between the ice and stands into play. The Tundra was slamming against the glass too hard, and the old Civic Center boards couldn’t handle it. Play had to be stopped until the issue was fixed.

Fast forward to Saturday’s game, where The Tundra again forced a stoppage by slamming the boards so hard that they shifted over and destroyed some of the ice on the rink. After ripping up the playing surface, the final two minutes or so of the second period had to be delayed as the arena staff repaired the newly formed pothole. Needless to say that the students that attend games, while still sparse, are intense.

The Iron Cup was full of physical, hard-nosed play on both sides.
Image via Matt Austin, Auburn Hockey

Secondly, there’s the matter of penalties. There were 37 called across the two games between both teams. With the exception of Auburn captain Blake Robison’s ejection and Easton Williamson’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, all of them were minor infractions. That means 85 penalty minutes were taken in a series where 120 total minutes were played. It was literally war on ice.

Lastly, I want to talk about the reason Easton Williamson got that unsportsmanlike call: Alabama scored a goal to take a 5-4 lead in the third period of the second game, but the referees waved it off. The ensuing sequence of shouting, complaining, and arguing was theatre of the highest caliber. Shortly after, Chuck Bay scored a shorthanded goal with a zinger off of the face-off, and Ryan Scott sealed the deal with a power play goal. Comedy.

Social media bonanza

So, Auburn found some big wins on the ice. What’s even more stunning is the success that the team found after the final horn sounded. After getting some huge love from fans on scoring update posts, the damn really broke when the team received this brilliant snap from Columbus River Dragons and Columbus Rapids photographer Matt Austin, whose shots have been staples of these articles for a reason:

After that, the followers flooded in, and Auburn Hockey Twitter Hive (a group still in its infancy) was born into the world. From shattering social media engagement records to ratio’ing the Alabama final score post with deep fried memes of Chuck Bay and Andrew Woomer, the fan support was explosive, enthusiastic, and not at all surprising. Auburn fans will cheer for anything, because as a wise man named Bruce once said, this is an everything school.

Here are a few of my favorite memes and posts from the weekend where a program that’s long languished in anonymity finally got some recognition:

And of course, I have to wrap things up with a post from College & Mag member and resident Carolina Hurricanes superfan James Jones:

May God have mercy on FAU’s social media manager if Auburn wins. Oh, one last thing. The crane photo from earlier? Yeah, a certain somebody took notice of that:

Auburn basketball beating Kentucky was a euphoric moment for sure, but honestly for me, the biggest supporter of hockey on the Plains out there, seeing that the post reached Jameson freaking Williams might’ve been a close second. Knowing that the account was getting angry replies from Tide fans was a moment of triumph.

More to come

The train isn’t slowing down at all for the Tigers, who head on the road to face a threatening FAU team that can score with the best of ‘em. This upcoming week is also going to be chock full of more news and surprises for the surging fanbase that the program has accrued. Jan. 22, 2022 could mark the moment where something special began brewing in the history of southern collegiate hockey. Only time will tell, but things feel promising to say the least.

Second Period: Fireside Chat

If y’all didn’t know, I (Eamon Smith) am the CEO of the Auburn Ice Hockey Club. While I write objectively and have no issue critiquing the team and myself, I do have a degree of insight into what’s going on, seeing as I run a lot of things behind the scenes. This segment is a recurring one devoted to providing updates on what the staff working on bettering the program is doing.

For some context, Auburn Hockey had issues with off-ice support and communication as recently as last season. While previous members of the team staff and former hockey ops division did take massive steps forward, particularly in getting WEGL 91.1 to broadcast games, there were problems with the way that things were being run internally, namely in that progress was being driven primarily by the players. This is a long way of saying that before the current staff was assembled, many of the current projects the team is now undertaking weren’t even possible.

“Fireside Chat” serves as a window into the incredible job that the players and staff are doing to build a program from the ground up. All of the things contained within are either under construction, complete, or in the past. It’s the fan’s guide to what they can look forward to.

What we’ve been working on:

  • Prepping for the release of the team’s first ever apparel store, which will feature: dad hats, flex hats, polos, quarter zips, short sleeve and long sleeve t-shirts, hoodies, and a knitted hat/toque/toboggan. While the designs of this merchandise will be quite simple due to the highly restrictive nature of what club sports teams are and aren’t allowed to use, it’ll finally give Auburn Hockey fans a chance to wear their support around in day-to-day life in a less expensive form than a jersey.
  • Speaking with NC State’s PackTV about equipment and how they operate, in the interest of preparing for next season’s broadcasts. Auburn Hockey is targeting the first home game of the 2022-23 season for the debut of “Hockey Night In Auburn,” a live stream that will include at least two camera angles, basic replay and graphics, play-by-play and color commentary, prerecorded intermission segments, and commercials reserved for team sponsors. The team has tentative agreements in place with SkyBar and 1716 to air games in their establishments, although nothing has been formally agreed to yet.
  • Expanding the arena audio experience to include more music, more sound effects, and a seamless track exchange system that replaced the previous method of “click on a song on your iTunes page.”
  • Working out product pricing and cost-benefit on the launch of the Auburn Hockey Booster’s Club, a program which team leadership hopes will help drastically increase the team’s budget and thereby reduce player fees.
  • Drumming up player profiles, social media ideas, and other variety content that’ll allow fans to get to know the student athletes lacing up for the Orange & Blue.
  • Beginning production work on one of the biggest reveals in program history, one that this column has been hyping up for almost a month now.

While the timelines on these projects tends to shift around, this is a brief overview of where Auburn Hockey is headed. I hope it excites you as much as it does me.

Third Period: Why Hockey Rules

So hey, you might be new to hockey. If that’s the case, you should look up the rules on YouTube; there’s a series by Snoop Dogg where he explains how the game is played in a way almost anyone can understand. Wondering why some penalties matter more than others, or what the heck a power play is? He’s got you covered.

Now then, the name of this segment is “Why Hockey Rules,” and it’s exactly what you’d think: a summation of why this sport is worth your time, but maybe more importantly why it should become your new obsession. I’m going to include a few examples in here so that we hit a broad smattering of tastes, but we’ll start with a big one: fighting. In football, the game is physical but usually the game is just a game. In hockey, games can erupt into gigantic brawls. While the NCAA, ACHA, and CHF have banned fighting in college hockey in the interest of protecting young players, that doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate the madness that still lives on in the NHL.

At the college level though, you can still lay booming, Brian Dawkins-esque hits. In hockey this happens more often than you’d think, given that everybody is moving pretty damn fast at all times. I present to you, the reader, nine minutes of Niklas Kronwall murdering dudes. All of these hits were legal. His name is a verb. You can get “Kronwall’d” like you can get “Moss’d.”

Rivalries are also excellent in the NHL and at every level below it. Perhaps no example is better than the 1990s blood feud between the Red Wings and Avalanche. SB Nation made a great video about it a while ago:

But above all, hockey is about the playoffs and the freakish fervor of the fans. It’s about the immense skill it takes to balance on skates, handle a puck, and read defenders. It’s about the moments that take your breath away.

Welcome to the beginning of what will hopefully be a lifelong journey as a fan of this weird, fast, physical, jubilant, disgusting, amazing, and decidedly wacky sport. I hope you’ll be back for next week’s edition. Until then, good day, and good hockey.