There are moments when they think: Is this really for real?
It is understandable.
The Ohio State women’s hockey team is in Minneapolis for its first Frozen Four just two years after the program seemingly reached its nadir.
The thought hit coach Nadine Muzerall as the final seconds ticked off of Ohio State's 2-0 victory at Boston College in the NCAA quarterfinals on Saturday.
“There was the moment after the game when the buzzer sounded, and I did say, ‘Wow, did his really happen?’ ” she said.
Freshman forward Tatum Skaggs said that even after repeatedly watching highlights of the shutout, the thrill doesn’t fade.
“It would be the 10th time, and we’re still in the dorm room crying because it’s an unreal feeling,” she said.
But these moments are fleeting. They realize it is real, that Ohio State is two games from a national championship not by chance but because of talent, work and the bond that can only come from building something from the bottom.
Ohio State (24-10-4) will play top-ranked Clarkson (34-4-1) at 5 p.m. Friday at Ridder Arena. The winner will face the Wisconsin-Colgate victor for the championship Sunday.
For a Buckeyes program that was 10-25-1 two years ago and in the midst of firing coaches in consecutive seasons — one for alleged harassment and another for NCAA violations — before hiring Muzerall, it has been a stunning rise.
Maddy Field, who had the clinching goal against Boston College, and Emma Maltais played on the same junior team in Canada. When they chose to come to Ohio State, there were more than a few eye-rolls.
“People were like, ‘Why are you going to Ohio State? They suck,’ ” Field said. “We were like, ‘We want to be a part of (building) something,’ and here we are Frozen Four-bound. It’s incredible.”
Though the Buckeyes are making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament, they were the aggressor for most of the game against Boston College. Muzerall said they will take that same style to Clarkson.
“There’s no other way in the postseason,” she said. “You can’t play like you don’t deserve to be there. Your opponent will notice that and then you’ll be in trouble. They played fantastic on Saturday.”
When the ice tilted in the third period, goalie Kassidy Sauve was up to the challenge after missing the previous three games with a knee injury. She got plenty of help from sophomore defenseman Jincy Dunne, whose career was threatened by concussion issues two years ago.
“This ride has been amazing,” Dunne said. “This journey, this group of girls, this coaching staff, everything we have going on right now is so special. There’s no other word. It’s just special. I just want to ride it out as long as we can.”
The Frozen Four will be a homecoming for Muzerall and assistant coach Milica McMillen. Muzerall is the University of Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer and won two national titles as a player and four as an assistant coach. McMillen was an assistant on three national championship teams.
“It would be a personal victory for both Milica and myself, and I think quite honestly we’re going to have the hometown in our corner,” Muzerall said. “They have the two Gopher alums.
“Nobody likes Wisconsin there and nobody knows the East Coast (teams) there. So why wouldn’t you choose Ohio State and the Cinderella story? I think we’re the team people are rooting for.”