Finally, after months of hiatus, hockey is back in session. With a season opening series against Florida State under four weeks away, Auburn hockey returned to the Columbus Ice Rink for the first day of training camp Saturday afternoon.
The day opened with an intense start during session one as Head Coach Ryan Rutz worked to get the blood flowing in the 39 players who turned out. Compared to last year’s tryouts coming off of COVID-19 shutdowns, the energy was a bit different.
“I think it was probably our best (start to) training camp ever,” said senior defenseman and team President Ryan Scott. “We had a lot of very good, high energy battles in the corners. Great turnout too.”
Watching the team run through drills, there was a clear emphasis on executing the fundamentals of the game at pace. Given an incoming class of 13 freshmen who are attempting to make the jump to a league where they’ll be competing against grown men, focusing on the basics was done with a clear purpose in mind.
In the eyes of Rutz, plenty of the newcomers showed they have what it takes to play in the College Hockey South. “There are a few kids that we’ve seen that I think will definitely help us this year.”
Freshman center Jack Seifert, an acquaintance of veteran Auburn forward Henry Lange, stood out in particular to the coaching staff. Seifert comes to the Plains off the heels of a high school career with the New Trier Blue varsity team in the IHSHL.
A pair of freshmen particularly impressed me: defenseman Jordan Pakuris and forward Alex Duchemin. Both looked like they could hang with their more experienced peers in what action they saw.
With much of last year’s production returning, the 2022-23 roster doesn’t appear to have many holes, but the question of who will win the backup goaltending spot is an interesting one. The now-seasoned Cam Denk is almost unquestionably considered the de-facto starter entering the year, but sophomore Chris Clement rarely saw action.
Clement, Denk and freshmen Derek McMaster and William Blake all looked solid in the eyes of Rutz, who was noncommittal on any distinction between the four’s performance. “It’s hard to judge a goalie in practice. We’ll take a look at them (Sunday) in the inter-squad game, but they all look like they can play goalie for our team.”
The positional battle between the pipes will certainly be one to watch, especially with graduate student Sam Carryer not yet factored into the mix (out with COVID-19), but it’s far from the only storyline entering day two. With limited time to separate themselves from the more established players, freshmen will have to make their mark in a big way during Sunday’s scrimmages to secure a coveted roster spot.
Through it all, Saturday’s sessions were lighthearted. Between Noah Henry hiding Mike Lafferty’s gloves and captain Blake Robison wearing a beer league jersey emblazoned with a “Big Momentum” nameplate, it was clear that the tone never got overly sterile in the rink.
Sunday, the same crop of skaters will return to the ice bright and early at 9 a.m. ET. The second day will likely focus on inter-squad games to separate the wheat from the chaff as Rutz draws closer to finalizing the roster. From there, media day (Aug. 27) and practices will unfold to get the team ready for the season. For more Auburn hockey content, stay tuned.