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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn Women's Hockey Club making their mark

<p>The Auburn women's club hockey team poses on the ice after their first game.&nbsp;</p>

The Auburn women's club hockey team poses on the ice after their first game. 

It isn’t necessarily a secret that when it comes to women’s hockey in the South, the platform is seemingly nonexistent. Do not be fooled though, because although that women’s hockey community may seem small, it is mighty, and the Auburn Family can now take part. 

This fall, the Auburn Women’s Hockey Club went public with their inaugural team. This is the first women’s hockey team in Auburn’s history. Although it is not a sanctioned sport within the Southeastern Conference, the team will compete as a club within the university.

20-year-old Abby Lin, from Knoxville, Tenn., is a junior defenseman on the newly established Auburn Women’s Hockey Club. She is the founder and president and has been playing most of her life. 

“When I graduated high school and decided to go to Auburn, I knew I still wanted to play hockey but that the men’s team was an unlikely option for me," Lin said. "I figured, 'Why not make a women’s team?' Plus, I think that getting girls to try something new too and growing the game down here is so important.”

That sentiment of encouraging young women to try new things rings especially true within the club’s leadership. Club vice president McKenna Prochaska, a 20-year-old senior from Buffalo, N.Y., has never played on a hockey team before, but does have some background in the sport. 

“Growing up, I skated with my dad because he’s played hockey since he was young," Prochaska said. "That’s what drew me to this.”

For vice president of communications Paige Cote, a 19-year-old sophomore from Plymouth, Mass. and a forward on the team, skating has essentially always been in her life. 

“I started playing when I was two and then focused on figure skating," Cote said. "But I went back and have been doing ice hockey for eight years now.”

Treasurer Gillian Constantinou, a 20-year-old junior defenseman from Westfield, N.J. can relate. 

“I have been playing for six years now and really started to play my junior year of high school," Constantinou said. "I have grown up skating.”

In lieu of the fact that their president is from the south, a majority of the club are from the northeastern part of country, where the exposure and resources for hockey are incredibly different. Not only is hockey an expensive sport to play at an amateur level, but it is one that requires a platform in order to expose potential fans. That hockey platform is small in the southern United States. 

While there are four NHL teams across the geographic south — the Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning— there are none across the deep South. 

This means that the access to watching regular season games is very slim due to blackout protocols and now — with the NHL signing broadcasting rights over to ESPN — most games now take place on the streaming service ESPN+. That app can cost fans up to $100 a year, a price some simply are not willing to pay to watch a hockey game. 

Additionally, the few local teams that there are down south may not have appropriate funding and marketing to promote their teams and games, not allowing their true potential to be reached. The biggest reason for the lack of exposure to hockey however is the lack of ice, both seasonal rinks and indoor rinks. 

“There isn’t really any ice around here so it can be difficult for people to get into the game and want to because it isn’t easy to play," Prochaska said. "Just for our team to get ice time, we have to drive to Columbus, Georgia every time we practice, and our games are going to be a few hours away.”

To add on to this, the SEC has only just begun to grow its hockey involvement. Out of 14 SEC schools, eight have hockey clubs. This number is impressive compared to the women’s clubs which are numbered at just two — one at the University of Georgia and the newest at Auburn. 

Those limited resources and smaller platform add a challenge and pressure to become a role model in women’s sports and hockey here down south. Nonetheless, it is a challenge the girls welcome. 

“There’s pressure in women’s hockey anywhere, since it is so small, so being able to get the numbers that the boys do and trying to get teams like other SEC schools is a bit harder for us than what the boys had to face," Cote said. "We’re hopeful that it’s something we can overcome.” 

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That hope is what keeps these women going amidst the chaos of forming a new athletic club. Auburn Women’s hockey has clear goals for themselves for the months and years to come. 

“We would love to grow by the end of this semester, Constantinou said. "Have more girls interested and continue to grow our numbers for spring.”

Upon the team's establishment, the immediate goal was to grow the game to give Auburn's team more competition and opportunity to play others beyond just the Bulldogs.

“Also being able to have games with more teams would be a big goal for us," Lin added. "As of right now we only play Georgia and obviously the fun part is the games so the more teams we can play would give us more experience.”

However, no matter what experience you may have, Auburn Women’s Hockey wants to make it clear that all are welcome. Their hope is to share a few simple views and goals: to grow the love of the not only down south, but for women everywhere. 

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