Auburn meets Georgia in "The Border War"

Photo via Michael Gallagher

COLUMBUS, Ga. - Though Auburn Hockey’s season is far from over, the team has found early success. Most recently, the Tigers swept the University of Tennessee Ice Vols in a two game series. Despite that strong start, the biggest challenge comes next: on Friday, Auburn battles against Georgia in the newly named “Border War.”

On Wednesday, Auburn was ranked No. 5 in the Southeast Region, and No. 14 nationally among D-II CHF teams. So far this season, Auburn has wins over Central Florida and two over UTK, falling to Embry-Riddle and tying Florida State in overtime for an overall record of 3-1-1.

As for the visitors, the Ice Dawgs are 9-2-0 with a 8-1-0 record in the SECHC, and enter the contest ranked No. 8 in D-II CHF. In 2019, UGA won the SECHC Cup, and with a +40 goal differential are well on track to make the postseason once again. The Dawgs also lead all of CHF in penalty minutes with 228.

According to Auburn netminder Cam Denk, the team is up for the challenge and is ready for what may be a huge opportunity on Friday.

“This is a massive game for us. If we can knock off the guys sitting atop the league standings, it would send a message to the rest of the league,” Denk said. “It’s going to be much more physical than our usual game and we expect to work harder than ever.”

Against Tennessee, the physical play was on full display, as Auburn blasted shots and dished out hits in back-to-back games. In the third period of Auburn’s first win against the Ice Vols, alternate captain Brandon Weis came off the bench and leveled an opposing skater, clearly as a response to perceived liberties taken by the visitors.

In the opinion of assistant captain J.J. Blanding, staying disciplined while remaining extremely physical on both ends will see Auburn to victory not only on Friday, but throughout the season.

“I think our success comes largely off disciplined play,” Blanding said. “If you go back and watch the games, you'll notice that when we start running our systems, like one-man forechecks and forcing the opposing defense to run their offense, we create much more opportunities for our offense to catch them slipping. It becomes much easier on the defense, too, with more defending help. Offense wins games, but defense wins championships, as they say.”

Generating offense off of defense was a huge key for Auburn against the Ice Vols. In the two game series, Auburn only allowed three combined goals, while netting 10 of their own. A big factor behind that success has been Denk, who has only allowed 11 goals on 167 shots, good for a 2.24 GAA and .930 save percentage.

“I know the boys had a great time battling UT,” Denk said. “The goal is to carry those emotions into this weekend. We played solid and relaxed. It helps being at home in front of the fans, so we are really hoping to see a large crowd to help us tackle UGA.”

Denk and Blanding both agreed that generating offense has traditionally been an area of issue for Auburn. However, this season the goals have been coming, and both players think they can carry that process over into the team’s biggest game of the season so far.

“Our goal is to maintain pressure while also staying defensively sound,” Denk said. “We know goals will come eventually; we just need to trust the process.”

Auburn will square off at home against Georgia in The Border War on Friday, November 5 at 8:30 p.m. EST. Auburn’s home rink is the Columbus Civic Center in Columbus, Georgia.