Happy New Year readers! With 2022 now underway, the Auburn Tigers are getting set to return to campus and hit the ice. It’s been an incredibly busy week in terms of program news, so there’s lot’s to talk about as compared to our pre-Christmas story. What exactly am I referring to? Read on to find out.
To read last week’s edition, click here.
First Period: Auburn Hockey History
I’m going to choose to keep the first segment of these articles as my main “spice” to keep things interesting. While some weeks we’ll be reviewing important or confusing rules of the game, others we’ll have Q&A or today’s content: team history and fun facts. This can sort of serve as a little novelty section where fans can grow their understanding of the tradition behind the current team, as well as where the future of the program ties in to all of that.
Auburn Hockey has been around since 2010-11, but the average AU fan might have some serious difficulty finding the program’s all-time statistical leaders. Luckily, Elite Prospects has incomplete, but useful data on Auburn teams dating back to 2013-14, including rosters, scoring totals, and penalty minutes. It takes a bit of fiddling around, but you can get a look at some of the team’s metrics to glimpse how far they’ve come.
Fun Fact: The first Auburn Hockey jerseys were not actually licensed by Auburn.
The founding members of the club, by their own admission, took a “ask for forgiveness, not permission” approach to many things in the early days of its formation. One of the funniest instances of this comes in the form of the club’s first-ever jerseys, which were totally unsanctioned by trademark and licensing and manufactured partially by the players themselves.
Instead of buying an entire uniform kit from a jersey company and jumping through all of those hoops, the players purchased a bulk order of blank New York Islanders Reebok uniforms and had the Auburn-related designs sublimated on. Thus, the first official team kit was born.
Rivalry History: “The Iron Cup” hasn’t been kind
The Auburn Ice Hockey Club has played the University of Alabama’s top club program since its inception. In over a decade of competition, Auburn’s all-time record against the Tide’s first string team stands at zero wins, 24 losses, and no ties. To call the Iron Cup as it stands a “rivalry” is difficult given that it’s been so one-sided. As of the 2016-17 season, Alabama had outscored Auburn teams 168-38 over 17 matchups. While Auburn is absolutely on equal footing or better with ‘Bama’s D-II team, defeating the D-I squad remains a goal that has not been reached.
Rivalry History: Auburn’s first playoff win
The South Carolina Gamecocks, or as they brand themselves, “Cock Hockey,” have been a domineering presence in the SECHC. Their rabid fanbase, strong social media presence, and high standard of play have all been key in being a consistent conference championship threat. Auburn, meanwhile, was effectively a doormat for Georgia and Alabama in its first five years of existence, culminating in a one win 2013-14 season.
So, when these two programs met in the SECHC Tournament back in 2019, the stakes were high. South Carolina looked to continue their rise to the conference’s peak alongside Georgia in pursuit of its first championship, whereas the lower seeded Tigers sought the first postseason victory in the team’s first playoff appearance.
Attached is the full game, which ended up undoubtedly being one of the greatest SECHC barnburners in recent memory. It’s certainly worth a watch.
Auburn went on to lose a close game in the semifinal round against Ole Miss, falling just short of a conference championship appearance against the UGA Ice Dawgs. Still, this moment will be etched into the minds of fans and players from both teams for a while to come.
Second Period: Fireside Chat
As the team’s staff prepares for a return to campus, things have started to ramp up.
What we’ve been working on:
- Scheduling for the 2022-23 season
- Getting all apparel designs approved by University Trademark & Licensing
- Investigating website design options
- Hiring a team videographer
- Collecting autographed memorabilia for a fundraising auction at the end of the season
- Building player profile graphics
- Tinkering with in-arena audio (music, sound effects)
- Aligning leadership for several projects heading into the spring semester
There’s been much more than what’s listed above, but that covers most of what’s immediately relevant. There are some big things cooking behind the scenes in preparation for an exciting back half of the 2021-22 season, which will hopefully include another playoff run and possibly a debut in the CHF’s Federation Cup tournament.
Third Period: Five Big Things
- Head Coach Marcel Richard, the winningest bench boss in program history, has resigned, citing that he wants to spend more time with his family as the chief cause for his departure. This could possibly be a blow for the program, as Richard steered them through eight seasons and helped build the 2019 team that made so many historic moment happen, such as their playoff victory over South Carolina or the first ever win against a hockey team wearing the Crimson Tide’s livery. Richard, a former Central Hockey League star for the Columbus Cottonmouths back in the late 90s, has been through it all with the program and is a large part of why it’s a respectable competitor today. His teams were marked by their grit, willingness to block shots, and emphasis on a suffocating forecheck, something that the 2021 team resonates with, and under him the Tigers went from winning just a single game in a full season to making the playoffs and competing against UGA, South Carolina, and Alabama. He’ll still be around as a prominent figure in Columbus’s hockey community, but his daily presence around the team will be missed.
- Luckily, the Tigers had a Head Coach in waiting in Ryan Rutz, an assistant alongside Richard. After four years with the team, “Rutzy” takes over a group on the rise that has a realistic shot of contending for the SECHC title. With his winning experience as a player (NCAA D-III and SPHL champion) and command of the locker room as a player’s coach, Rutz believes he can take Auburn to new heights. Only time will tell if that’s the case, but the players and Coach Richard certainly feel confident that he’ll do a stellar job.
- I’ve confirmed that Auburn will be getting home games against the Florida Gators and Vanderbilt Commodores during the 2022-23 season. Florida and Auburn don’t have much history with one another, so those games ought to be entertaining and competitive; the ‘Dores have been a basement-dwelling program for many years but seem to finally have turned things around to a degree, showing improvement this season as a team still in its formative years. A couple of nice matchups locked in on the calendar.
- There’s some huge news coming in a few weeks that fans will be excited about. Let’s just say to hang on to some pocket change for an item of interest. I can’t say much more than that.
- Senior Blake Robison is on pace to finish as one of Auburn’s all-time greats. He stands in the top five in career points, assists, goals, penalty minutes, and games played, is the team captain, and should end up the program’s leader in games played when he calls it quits. If Chandler Brown, Steven Verrone, Adam Kalson, and Hayden Harris were the first great wave of Auburn Hockey players, Robison will end up in that same pantheon alongside teammate Brandon Weis, who also ranks in the top five of many statistical categories. Robison’s pursuit of these records is a storyline to watch entering the spring.
That’s all for this week. Until next time, good day, and good hockey.