One Ohio State hockey team ― the women’s ― is confident that it is peaking at the right time.
The other ― the men’s ― knows it isn’t but believes it can.
The Buckeyes teams play in their conference playoffs this weekend. The fifth-ranked women play No. 3 Minnesota in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association semifinals on Saturday in Minneapolis. The 11th-ranked men open the Big Ten tournament with a best-of-three quarterfinal series against Wisconsin in Value City Arena starting Friday.
The women’s team has won four straight games, including a sweep of Minnesota State in the WCHA quarterfinals last weekend. The Buckeyes (22-8-6) haven’t lost ― except an overtime loss to Wisconsin ― since Feb. 8.
“We feel really good,” said coach Nadine Muzerall, who on Wednesday was named WCHA coach of the year for the second time in her four years as Ohio State’s coach. “We’ve got some great momentum and have been capitalizing on our power play and doing the right things 5 on 5. So we feel loose in the sense of enjoying the process and not being tight and nervous.”
The Buckeyes offense is led by Emma Maltais (39 assists, 19 goals), Liz Schepers (22 goals) and Tatum Skaggs (39 points). Goaltender Andrea Braendli has a .924 save percentage behind a defense featuring WCHA defensive player of the year Jincy Dunne (28 points).
“Jincy is an incredible athlete but an even better human being,” Muzerall said. “She has an immense amount of hockey knowledge and IQ that a lot of people don’t really possess. Her skills and the technical part of her game is very, very elite, and she’s instrumental on our power play.”
Muzerall will return to the arena where she was a star player two decades ago. She still holds the Golden Gophers’ career record with 139 goals.
“Of course it’s special,” she said. “It’s odd being on the other side of the bench when you’re there. When you score, all of a sudden it’s very quiet.”
If the Buckeyes win, they’ll play No. 1 Wisconsin or No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth in the championship game Sunday. Ohio State is hoping to advance to the Frozen Four for the second time. They lost in the semifinals in 2018.
While the women try to sustain their momentum, the men’s team is trying to find some. Ohio State had a disappointing end to their regular season last week, losing twice to Wisconsin, the second time after squandering a 3-0 lead.
The Buckeyes (18-11-5), who are the No. 2 Big Ten seed, are happy to get another crack at the seventh-seeded Badgers.
“Obviously we were disappointed last weekend, and we can kind of use that as motivation for this weekend — and we’re going to,” junior forward Austin Pooley said.
Wisconsin (14-18-2) has underachieved this season, but the Badgers are talented. The Buckeyes believe they were too passive last weekend and allowed Wisconsin too much time and space.
“They’re a very skilled team,” Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. “They have 12 NHL draft picks. But if we play the right way and have our structure and compete (level) and work ethic, that’s what’s going to give us our best chance.”
Ohio State has searched for consistency for most of the season. The Buckeyes almost certainly need to advance this weekend to reach the NCAA Tournament.
“Obviously, we’re not quite there when you saw what happened (last) weekend,” Rohlik said. “Sometimes, it’s shift to shift. Sometimes, it’s period to period. We’re still searching for that 60-minute game.
“I still think it’s in there. I like this locker room. I like our guys. We’ve just got to find it.”