Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
A spirit that is not afraid
Logo of The Auburn Plainsman
Friday, Sep 22, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

Auburn Hockey looks to improve in first season under new head coach

<p>Auburn forward Lance O’Rourke celebrates a goal with teammates Sam Edwards, JJ Blanding, Mike Lafferty and Brandon Weis. | Photo by Bryan Meeks</p>

Auburn forward Lance O’Rourke celebrates a goal with teammates Sam Edwards, JJ Blanding, Mike Lafferty and Brandon Weis. | Photo by Bryan Meeks

By the end of the 2021-22 season, the Auburn University Ice Hockey Club had been through heartbreaking losses, impressive wins and a mid-season coaching change. The Tigers hope to build from last season's adversity as they try to establish a winning culture in the team. 

New head coach of the Tigers Ryan Rutz took the reins halfway through last season. Since his arrival, Rutz has been instilling a culture in the team that takes advantage of the team’s talent and leads them in the right direction. 

“In the past, we've basically shown up and played and you know, did well, but Rutz really focused on establishing that winning culture," said senior defenseman Ryan Scott. "We're focusing on winning now."

Auburn struggled to come away with wins in close games last season, losing five of its nine losses by two goals or less. Scott wants to build on some of the close games last year, such as a mid-season overtime loss against the reigning College Hockey South Champions and rivals, Georgia. 

“We played [Georgia] very close, lost one game in overtime and another with like two seconds left," Scott said. "We just need to keep building and hopefully these new guys will be able to take a good step for us."

The team is looking for help from some of the younger guys who hopefully can provide depth. Scott has kept an eye on freshman forward Brooks Franklin, hoping he can improve the team’s offensive depth. 

“I think he's gonna have a good year for us," Scott said. "He's coming out of Huntsville and played with a good program there and I think it'll be a good depth forward for us."

One of the areas that Auburn struggled in last season that could help change the outcome of close games was scoring on the power play. Goals on the man advantage were a rare occurrence for the Tigers.

“Since I've been on the team, I don't remember us having a very strong power play," said senior center Blake Robison. "I think that's something that we're going to put some focus on this year whereas in the past it's kind of just been led by the wayside maybe."

The Tigers have a lot to look forward to this season. The team has a plethora of players returning that can make a big difference, such as Noah Henry, who led the team in scoring in his freshman season. 

Older players such as senior defenseman J.J. Blanding from Decatur, Alabama are looking forward to leaving their marks in some of the bigger games in their final season. 

“I'm excited for the Von Braun series," Blanding said. "I think that's one of my final series and to finish it at home seems kind of fitting so I think it'd be a really fun time."

Other veteran players are looking forward to some of the big games against rivals Georgia and Alabama D-I. The Tigers failed to beat either team last season and have never been able to beat Alabama’s D-I team. 

Auburn will be returning to their usual home ice this season at the Columbus Ice Rink. The team had to play the 2021-22 season in the Columbus Civic Center. COVID-19 restrictions led to the city of Columbus to convert the team's smaller home into a municipal court for the duration of the year. The players are excited to be back on home ice for the new season. 

“We're excited to be back in our home rink. I think the energy is a lot better in there," Robison said. "That Civic Center can kind of swallow it up sometimes. I think it's gonna get everybody amped up for those games."

Auburn also added former captain Chandler Brown to the coaching staff over the off-season. Brown finished his time with Auburn as the all-time leader in goals (51), assists (47), points (98) and games played (69).

The Tigers will kick the season off this Thursday and Friday in a series against Florida State at the Columbus Ice Rink. Both games will start at 7 p.m. CST.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Auburn Plainsman delivered to your inbox

Chris Mendoza | Sports Writer

Chris Mendoza is a senior from Huntsville, Ala. majoring in journalism and minoring in sports coaching. He started with The Plainsman in fall 2022.

Twitter: @chris_mendoza20

Share and discuss “Auburn Hockey looks to improve in first season under new head coach” on social media.