Updated: Oct 25, 2021
In Auburn Club Hockey’s first game of the 2021-2022 season, the Tigers traveled to Pelham, Ala., to take on the University of Alabama’s Division I team. In the Division II Tigers' first challenge of the Tide’s headlining roster since 2018, Auburn fell 10-2.
Despite the score, the Orange & Blue kept up with an opponent two leagues above them, for the majority of the game, providing Auburn fans with a glimpse of the promise this team possesses.
“Playing a team like this gives us a lot to look forward to,” defender JJ Blanding said. “It is exciting that we could keep up with them. It was a lot closer than the scoreboard looked.”
Early in the first period, Auburn conceded two quick goals to the home team. In net for Auburn was Cam Denk, who saw 44 shots on goal throughout the night.
Denk was described by his teammates as “a raw talent” and someone who “just needs to see more game action.” Denk may have allowed 10, but the athletic netminder also made dozens of sprawling saves that hinted at the promise others spoke of.
Down 2-0, Auburn went on the attack looking to close the gap and take a run at the Tide. After a sustained offensive cycle, newcomer Noah Henry tipped home a point shot from defenseman James Willoughby-Ray for Auburn’s first goal of the game.
Henry, a rookie for Auburn at 20-years old, projects to be one of the most dynamic players on the team. The skilled center formerly played in the USPHL Premier Division and will likely provide some of the SECHC’s highest point totals.
On the night, No. 9 buried another tally after tickling the twine with a nasty wrister over the goaltender’s stick-side shoulder
Both of Auburn's goals came on power plays. The Tigers’ special teams play was impressive on the whole, going 1/3 on the penalty kill and 2/5 with the man advantage; undoubtedly a good sign against a difficult opponent.
The Tigers generated plenty of equal-man offensive pressure, but had difficulty converting on their scoring chances. Plenty of times Auburn found itself hammering shots on Alabama’s goal, especially in the second period.
For most of the second, Auburn buzzed around in the offensive zone unimpeded. Unfortunately, this didn’t result in the team finding the back of the net.
Still, being able to keep up with a bigger and faster Division I team was an impressive feat for a young Auburn team, particularly given the short notice that the game was played on.
“I am excited for the year moving forward,” Blanding said. “We have a lot of goal scorers, a lot of grinders. We are going to be just fine.”
Forward Brandon Weis stated after the game that Auburn needs to shake off some rust, but saw plenty of good in last night’s contest.
“We have taken massive strides and are excited to bring a competitive product to our fans,” Weis said.
Alabama saw nine different players score, with Ryan Johnson netting two. Alabama split play between two goalies in the game, giving each 30 minutes of play. Each saw 15 shots, and each let up one goal.
Moving forward, Auburn goes on a long break until its first game of the regular season. On Oct. 15, the club will travel to Daytona Beach, Fla., to take on UCF.
In January, Auburn and Alabama will meet again for a pseudo-rematch, with the Crimson Tide's D-II team facing off against the Tigers in Columbus. The locker room feels that things will be different then, with more practice, games, and chemistry heading into the series.