Hello everyone ! It was a long time ago. Today brings the America’s Race bounty, the Daytona 500, but also an oversized new version of the Auburn Hockey Report. Rev your engines, break out the Sunday morning coffee and get ready to read a lot about your favorite club sports team.
To read the latest edition of this column, click here.
First period: The race for the playoffs heats up
It’s been a long and rocky road for the Auburn Tigers since the last edition of this column was published nearly a month ago. After hitting arguably the highest point in the program’s recent history in January (an Alabama D-II sweep followed by a No. 4 ranking in the BCS’s CHF equivalent), the run has been all except fluid. The Tigers head into their final weekend of the regular season on a four-game losing streak, suffering sweeps against No. 2 FAU and, more upsetting, No. 26 Alabama D-II.
Looking at Auburn’s playoff prospects a while ago, it was fair to assume the Tigers might struggle to win a game against a tough FAU team. That they were so easily defeated by Team D-II for the Tide after playing a hard-fought game with Tuscaloosa’s best (a 6-3 loss to Alabama’s ACHA DI team that was much more closer than the final score shown), these results were hard to swallow.
Still, with two games left in the 2021-22 regular season, Auburn is in complete control of its destiny. College Hockey South (the conference was recently renamed SECHC, but that’s a separate article) standings are starting to lock in for the next conference tournament in Huntsville, but the teams’ midfield remains tightly contested as the boys of the Plains prepare to march on Athens and confront the 3rd UGA.
At the time of writing this article, South Carolina has barely worked his way into the top eight positions, with a pair of decisive 6-2 and 8-4 victories over rival Clemson in the Palmetto Cup, taking them to 17 points on the year. Florida takes on a struggling FSU schedule this weekend with an opportunity to punch its ticket to the dance; anything short of a Gators sweep would be a surprise, but college hockey is likely to produce plenty of absurdist comedies in the same vein.
At the heart of it all is Ole Miss, who will decide whether they or Alabama D-II end up in the bracket in Huntsville with their weekend slate. If the Rebels (or Landsharks, or whatever they prefer to be called) walk away from this game with 17 or 16 points, they’re sitting well; if the tide rises on its recent momentum in a sweep, they’re looking at an outside shot to make the playoffs.
Finally, there is Auburn and Tennessee. The Ice Vols finished their regular season with 18 points after a pair of 11-8 wins over Vanderbilt in what was arguably the messiest, dumbest, goofiest series of rivalries of the year in the conference. I say that with love. Auburn, with 16 points, needs to at least move away from its outdoor streak in Athens with 17 to continue playing in March. Looking at the complexion of both teams entering the coming weekend, it could be a daunting task.
Second period: drop everything
Auburn and Georgia are interesting foils for each other. The Ice Dawgs have a long track record of success and a conference championship under their belt, as well as a home rink in Athens, a veteran head coach and a rock-solid recall program providing financial support and a organization. Auburn is an upstart program with a hard-hitting youth, a new head coach, little history of playoff glory and a meteoric upward trajectory started by former players and coaches like Hayden Harris, Chandler Brown, Marcel Richard, Mike Robinson , Trevor Hightower and Elliott Chenger.
This outdoor series, which Auburn has marketed as a big annual event, is more than an intense final push to secure a playoff spot; it is a clash of blue blood against new blood to determine the orientations of the respective programs. Auburn topping UGA would signal a monumental shift in the balance of power between CHS teams; before that, there was no evidence that these Tigers, a respectable but decidedly non-dominant team, could win against the big boys. They faced FAU, Alabama DI and even UGA up close but went 0-5 against them. This is their chance to change the narrative from “close, but no cigar” to being legitimate contenders who can threaten any team in the knockout bracket of the CHS tournament.
It will be difficult to take a point away from the Ice Dawgs, especially since Auburn will face them in hostile conditions; the outdoor rink notoriously has uncertain ice that the Dawgs should experience after playing weekend playoffs there this month, as opposed to Auburn’s lack of experience playing in such an environment. The Tigers will have to travel on a Thursday, while the Dawgs can play within walking distance of campus. UGA has dropped just one conference game this year against Georgia Tech, while Auburn has been incredibly inconsistent from week to week.
It’s a series of contrasts, a series of hate, a series that promises to be the biggest the conference has seen since the Palmetto Cup. It’s the can’t-miss hockey in the final week, and that’s about all you can ask for.
Third Period: Auburn Hockey History
After speaking with an Auburn Hockey alum about 1980s teams last week, there was a treasure trove of fun facts, history and other interesting stuff unearthed from what was once a void in the chronicles of the program. Let’s run through a few quick things that might match your interests:
- Auburn Hockey actually beat the best team in Alabama and won a conference championship. The 1982 Tigers dominated the old SCHA (Southern Collegiate Hockey Association) before winning the conference, securing a berth in the national tournament. While what happened in the final game of that season wasn’t particularly auspicious (a 16-2 loss to eventual national champion UAH in the playoffs), it’s worth noting that Auburn was a powerhouse that was recruiting nationally, at least by club. hockey standards, until the original club disbanded in 1984 due to the team’s troubles with the University. During this period, the Tigers easily beat Alabama at least once, according to the recollections of Mr. John Nordness and Mr. Scott Sickler.
- Auburn nearly landed a goaltender who ended up receiving a Team USA tryout with the pitch “a beautiful campus and beautiful students.” The goalkeeper, whose name Nordness could not remember, would later play elsewhere at a higher level, but at one point came close to wearing the Orange & Blue. It’s thanks to the efforts of the club’s academic sponsor, a hockey-mad professor from Michigan who printed full-color recruiting flyers and distributed them to hundreds of high schools across the country. Rather wild.
- Pat Benatar once received an Auburn hockey jersey. During a 1980s concert at the Beard-Eaves Coliseum, the team’s backup goalkeeper ended up bringing the jersey to the stage, where it was waved like a flag by the rock star. The more you know.
- One of the original Auburn Hockey jersey designs was a complete and intentional rip-off from the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. The story goes that a freshman rookie whose parents owned a sporting goods store walked in, saw the first set of jerseys the team had, and said “that’s terrible.” He sent for some new uniforms from home and got them in the form of these gorgeous jerseys that would most certainly deserve a ban from the Alberta NHL franchise today:
Overtime: clip of the week
Auburn’s second round at Alabama D-II didn’t go too well, but defenseman James Willoughby-Ray had fun no matter the final score by erasing a Tide skater who cut down the middle in his own zoned. You have to keep your head on a swivel.
That’s it for this week’s edition. Stay tuned for more articles as College & Mag breaks down all kinds of Auburn Hockey news and content, such as:
- Why the SECHC decided to rename itself CHS… in the final weeks of the regular season.
- Playoff Breakdown and Playoff Previews
- An ode to Alabama Hockey being by far the most detestable incarnation of the University to date.
- Clothing and financial news!
- More “Hockey for Beginners” content.
- Questions and answers
Until next time, have a nice day and happy hockey.