Ohio State Women’s Hockey Confident About National Championship Chances Entering NCAA Tournament As No. 1 Seed

By Dan Hope on March 11, 2022 at 12:05 pm
Ohio State women’s hockey celebrates its WCHA Final Faceoff win over Minnesota.
Ohio State Dept. of Athletics

Ohio State women’s hockey coach Nadine Muzerall isn’t shying away from the expectations that come with being the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

For the first time in program history, the Buckeyes will host an NCAA Tournament game on their home ice when they play Quinnipiac in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Saturday. Also for the first time in program history, Ohio State is favored to win the entire NCAA Tournament, as the Buckeyes have never before been ranked as the No. 1 team in the country.

With that comes an expectation that Ohio State will win its first-ever women’s hockey national championship. Muzerall believes her team is ready to handle that pressure.

“I just want them to know that they can do this, that they could win the whole thing,” Muzerall said. “It's easy when you hear other people saying it, but if they truly believe it, I think they do, and I just want to make sure that they understand how good they really are. Because, we've never been one before. So I just want to make sure that they know that they're legit one.”

Muzerall and her players have reason to be confident. The Buckeyes earned the No. 1 overall seed by going 29-6 to this point in the season, already setting a new program record for wins. They already won a conference championship last week by defeating Minnesota and Wisconsin – two of the other teams in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals, with Minnesota being the No. 2 seed – at the WCHA Final Faceoff on Minnesota’s home ice.

They’re led by senior defenseman Sophie Jaques, who has emerged as a frontrunner to win this year’s Patty Kazmaier Award, women’s hockey’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy. Even though she plays primarily on defense, Jaques has the third-most points of any individual player in the country with 57 points (20 goals, 37 assists) on just 35 games, including the final two goals in the Buckeyes’ 3-2 overtime comeback win over Minnesota in last weekend’s conference championship game.

Beyond her skill on the ice, Jaques brings a calm demeanor to the Buckeyes that Muzerall believes has rubbed off on her entire team.

“She is just steady Eddie and very cool,” Muzerall said of Jaques. “And so I think when you have your best player, your leader, leading quietly and calmly, I think people follow because there's that reassurance like ‘Yeah, we got this, we're okay.’”

What’s made the Buckeyes the No. 1 team in the country, though, is the depth and well-roundedness of their roster. Ohio State has seven players who have scored at least 35 points this season; no other team has more than three. The Buckeyes lead the nation in goals per game and rank fourth in goals allowed per game; they also lead the country in power play percentage (36%) and rank third in penalty-killing percentage (92.9%).

“I think if I'm on another team looking at OSU, I really would question ‘Where is their weakness?’” Muzerall said. “There's not a weakness that somebody can try to poke at and really focus on with us. I think we've done a really good job of cleaning up all areas of the ice.”

The Buckeyes have emerged as a perennial championship contender since Muzerall became their head coach in 2016, and they’ve already come close to winning a national title a few times. They made it to the semifinals of the Frozen Four in both 2018 and 2021, and looked poised to vie for a championship in 2020 before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ohio State hasn’t yet made it to the national championship game or hoisted the championship trophy, but Muzerall believes this year’s team has what it takes to go further than any Ohio State women’s hockey team has ever gone before.

“We have more depth, and we don't have a weakness anywhere. We've taken pride in all the areas of the game, and we are tired of being a bridesmaid, getting to the show and coming short. And I think we have more leadership and experience,” Muzerall said. “Last year, that team, there wasn't very many that had been to the postseason. And now more than half have. So I think that's really important.”

“I just want them to know that they can do this, that they could win the whole thing.”– Nadine Muzerall on her message to her team

Jaques says the Buckeyes’ belief in one another has grown more and more as the season has progressed and they’ve won more and more games.

“We definitely have confidence in ourselves,” Jaques said. “I think it's really grown over this year. And I think these past couple of weeks, we've really proven it to ourselves with being able to play two good games every weekend to sweep a team and especially last weekend, I think that gave us the confidence we need going into this tournament that we know we can win it if we play our game.”

To get back to the Frozen Four, which will be contested next weekend at Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena, the Buckeyes must first defeat Quinnipiac on Saturday, and that won’t be easy. The Bobcats beat Syracuse 4-0 in a first-round game on Thursday, and Muzerall admitted she was hoping the Buckeyes wouldn’t have to face Quinnipiac, who holds a 26-9-3 record this season.

“Quinnipiac is a big team,” Muzerall said. “They're physical, they play very aggressive in the neutral zone, they have some good goaltending and they’re really good. I didn't want to pull them the first round. They're really good. And they're coached well, and they've had a lot of success. We've played them not last year but the two years prior to that, it was one-goal games, it was battles. So it's gonna be physical.”

That said, the Buckeyes only need to win three more games to win their first-ever national championship, and Muzerall firmly believes her team is capable of doing so. That’s still much easier said than done, so they can’t overlook any opponent along the way, but they’ll have a chance if they continue to play as well as they’ve played down the stretch of the season, in which they’ve won 10 of their last 11 games.

“I think we're playing great right now just building off of last weekend and winning the championship was great for going into this tournament with a lot of confidence. And we're excited to play teams we haven't seen before, which I think works well in our favor,” Jaques said. “I think we do a good job as a group of staying in the moment and taking it one game at a time. So with that mindset, I think we’ll be good.”

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