AUBURN — While its preseason goal has been met, Auburn hockey is not satisfied.
Fresh off their first sectional championship in four years, the Maroons are moving on to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Division II regionals to face Ogdensburg Free Academy Saturday at the Ogdensburg Golden Dome.
Auburn rocked Clinton 5-1 in the section final, but make no mistake — the Maroons want more.
"By no means are they satisfied," Auburn coach Mike Lowe said. "They want to go all the way. That was our goal, to win the section championship. Now that we've done that, it's one game at a time. They want to keep going. They're hungry."
Having the section title in their rearview may be a benefit for the Maroons; even with bigger goals ahead, the group can play loose.
"It takes pressure off me. We won a section championship and that feels great, and anything from here on out is extra," goaltender Jack Kalabanka said. "We want to win states but we achieved what we set out to do at the beginning of the season."
The Blue Devils (13-7-1), Section X's champion, defeated St. Lawrence 4-3 in overtime to win the section final and clinch a home game in the state tournament.
OFA may be one of the few teams capable of matching Auburn's firepower on offense; the Blue Devils own Section X's three leading scorers, including Jared Barr who currently has 64 points (31 goals) in 21 games. Right on his heels is teammate Isaac Testani who has recorded 56 points this season, while Jackson Troiano is a distant third (31 points).
In total, OFA led Section X with 109 goals while allowing 69, the fourth-most goals against.
Auburn's Jake Morin, Johnny Malandruccolo and Brendan Williams make up three of the top four scorers in Section III, Division II. In the section, no team scored more than the Maroons.
"They're similar to us in that they had the top three scorers in the league. Also similar in how they play, their style and even how they handle face-offs," Lowe said. "Not too many teams do it like we do it, but they do. It's kind of weird. ... Uncanny the similarities between the two teams."
Auburn allowed nearly 40 shots on goal against Clinton its last game, but the Maroons tried to limit the dangerous chances. It'll take a similar formula against OFA.
"Blocking a lot of shots, getting in their way. ... I think if we play our game, we'll be alright," defenseman Aidan Hastings said. "It's a good team and it's going to be difficult, but I think we're ready."
Auburn hasn't faced a team from Section X since the 2013-14 season. That year, the Maroons traveled up to North Country to face Canton and Potsdam in a tournament, going 1-1.
Since then, the Maroons' out-of-section opponents have consisted of Section I's Clarkstown North, Section V's McQuaid and Victor, Section VI's Williamsville East and Section VII's Beekmantown.
"This'll be my first time (facing Section X)," Hastings said. "This is my second year on the team. I've never made it this far after getting knocked out in the first round last year. It'll be exciting."
According to Lowe, Section X is known for its physical hockey where the referees "let them play."
"Some people think it's a little more physical, a little bit tougher, a little bit rougher," Lowe said. "The officials, in the two games I've watched I think have called two penalties. Not that it's been cheap or chippy, but they've been physical games."
This will be Auburn's third trip to the state tournament. After winning sectionals in 2014, the Maroons defeated Williamsville East 3-1 in regionals before losing to Beekmantown 2-1 in the state semifinal.
In 1989, after losing in the Section III, Division I championship, Auburn received an at-large bid to the state tournament but fell in the first round to Section V's Greece in double-overtime.
The Maroons are hoping the grind of Section III's schedule will be a benefit the rest of the way.
"We believe that Section III is the hardest section in the state," Lowe said. "If you go through the history of New York state high school hockey, you're going to see that more state champions come out of Section III, Division I and Division II, than any other section. We feel strongly that if you can win Section III, you've got a good chance to advance in the state tournament."
History backs that up — Section III owns more state champions between the combined divisions, 21, than any other section. In Division II, 14 of the 36 state champions have come from Section III.
Section X is second with 17 state championships. No other section has more than nine.