How They Got Here:
-30-6-0 overall, 21-6-0 in conference, second in WCHA
-Won WCHA Playoff championship
-4-3 2OT win over Quinnipiac in NCAA quarterfinal
-Notable season series: 4-1 vs. Minnesota, 3-2 vs. Wisconsin, 2-2 vs. Minnesota Duluth
What to Watch For:
-From her opening statement on the WCHA preseason conference call, Ohio State head coach Nadine Muzerall set the tone for the season, saying she felt that over the past few seasons, the Buckeyes had established themselves as a regular Frozen Four participant, and now it was time for them to take the next step, meaning a national championship. Now, here they sit as the #1 overall seed and favorites to win the title in Happy Valley. They’ve been close before, but this is the first time where it will be a surprise if they don’t win, and it will be interesting to see how they handle that pressure.
--It’s both 100% unfair and also likely an unfortunate reality, but taking home their first ever national title may have some added importance for the Buckeyes, especially as it pertains to upgrading their arena and facilities. It’s no secret that while Ohio State has proven they can go head-to-head with the likes of Minnesota and Wisconsin on the ice, they’re still at a significant disadvantage with the tiny arena that they play in. The next step for their program has to be getting a facility worthy of a program of their caliber.
They’ve already received unprecedented support and attention from the Columbus Blue Jackets after making the Frozen Four this year. Finishing the job and taking home the title might be what it takes to convince the right people that it is time to make a serious investment in the program.
-The scary thing about Ohio State’s run of success leading into this year was that they were doing it at a little bit of a recruiting deficit against some of the other major players. Muzerall inherited Jincy Dunne, and her time with Hockey Canada helped her get Emma Maltais–a pretty good place to start from–but while Ohio State recruited some talented players, they weren’t necessarily pulling in players at the U18 national team level the way some other major programs. That didnt’ necessarily hinder the results on the ice, but did leave the question open about what Ohio State might be capable of.
This year’s Ohio State is starting to show what those capabilities might be. Being all-in on a championship this season, the Buckeyes hit the transfer portal hard, and brought in some excellent players like Clair DeGeorge(Bemidji State), Teagan Grant(WIS), Hadley Hartmetz(BC), and Lauren Bernard(CLK), all of whom had previous international experience, along with some really good veteran college hockey players like Emily Curlett(RMU) and Kenzie Hauswirth(QUI).
-Speaking of which, you have to feel good for Clair DeGeorge, who was consistently one of the most talented, skilled players in the WCHA for four years at Bemidji State, but never found the success or recognition she deserved because she just didn’t have the talent around her to compete regularly.After a grad-year transfer to Ohio State, she had the help she needed, and now she’ll get her shot at competing for a national title.
--I don’t get a Patty Kazmaier vote, but if I did, I think it would be incredibly difficult to look past what Sophie Jaques has done for the Buckeyes this season, as a defenseman. There was fair question about where Ohio State’s scoring would come from when Emma Maltais was selected for the Olympics. I doubt anyone excpected a defenseman–who only scored four points last year–to completely cover that offensive loss. What Jaques has done is one of the more remarkable seasons that I can remember.
--Stylistically, the Buckeyes aren’t the prettiest hockey team. There’s a reason it took them over 70 shots on goal to finally push one through against Quinnipiac in overtime in the regional final. But they play tough, physical hockey, and give absolutely nothing away defensively. I talked a lot in the aftermath of the Olympcis about the Canadian style of hockey, and Ohio State resembles the Canadians in more ways than just how their jerseys look.
Somebody may find a way to beat the Buckeyes this weekend, but if they do, they’re going to have to do it the hard way.