Not satisfied with being a contender, Ohio State women's hockey eyes first national title

Jacob Myers
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State coach Nadine Muzerall has built the Buckeyes from an obscure program to a threat to win the national championship.

When Nadine Muzerall was hired as coach of the Ohio State women’s hockey team in 2016, she felt like she had to police everything and everyone. 

The Buckeyes' third coach in three seasons, she had to establish a culture among her staff and players who knew nothing but losing seasons, and to somehow recruit talented players to a program with no history and an old, worn-down hockey rink that hasn’t received much of a facelift since it opened in 1961.

All of that has happened. 

Now in her sixth season, Muzerall has led the Buckeyes to their first two Frozen Four appearances in 2018 and 2021, the program’s first-ever WCHA conference title in 2020 and has them at No. 2 in the country at 15-3 with national championship aspirations. 

Ohio State is teetering between already being or on the cusp of being one of the established elite programs in women’s college hockey. There’s one more step the Buckeyes can take to leave no doubt as to where they stack up with the rest of the country. 

"We don't always want to be a bridesmaid. We want to be a bride now,” Muzerall said. “That shouldn't be our benchmark anymore, getting to a Frozen Four. Now it's got to be to win the whole thing.” 

Ohio State coach Nadine Muzerall has built the Buckeyes from an obscure program to a threat to win the national championship.

Ohio State Buckeyes women's hockey returns to the ice

Ohio State returns to the ice Friday and Saturday against Lindenwood after more than a month without a game. The Buckeyes have back-to-back home series against No. 8 Minnesota Duluth and No. 5 Minnesota in January before starting goaltender Andrea Braendli makes her second Olympic appearance for Switzerland in Beijing. 

The Buckeyes’ 2021 season ended with a loss to Wisconsin in the Frozen Four, 11 days after losing the conference championship game to the Badgers in overtime. Ohio State brought back a lot of talent, but it also lost leading scorers Emma Maltais and Tatum Skaggs and added 10 new players. 

Ohio State ranks first in the nation — above No. 1 Wisconsin — in goals and assists per game. Four players are in the top 10 individually for assists per game. Six players have at least 10 goals and 20 points. 

"What it really demonstrates was these girls were like, 'They're not here, someone's got to take the bull by the horns,' ” Muzerall said. “They all did. It's not just one player.” 

Senior Gabby Rosenthal is one of the best centers in the NCAA. In addition to leading the Buckeyes in goals, Muzerall said, she’s powerful and does a great job of winning puck battles. Sophomore forward Jenna Buglioni — 10 goals and 18 assists — is 5 feet 3 but is one of the strongest players mentally. 

With  30 points, defender Sophie Jaques is tied for the team lead in scoring.

Senior defender Sophie Jaques, who is tied with forward Jennifer Gardiner for the team lead with 30 points and 19 assists, said that every year the team has grown more committed to the culture Muzerall created, which has kept the players collectively wanting more. 

After losing in the Frozen Four last year, Buckeyes eye national championship

"It was obviously hard losing (in the Frozen Four) last year, and we were disappointed, but I just think it proved that we are there and that we have that potential,” Jaques said. “I think the focus coming into this year was — I know in previous years it was like, 'Let's get to the Frozen Four, we've never done that before, let's do it.' Now it's, 'Let's win a national championship,' and that's our next step and there's nothing stopping us if we execute well together.”

Goaltender Andrea Braendli will make her second Olympic appearance for Switzerland in Beijing.

Braendli recalled going to Wisconsin her freshman year and the team thinking it just wanted to play well regardless of the score. After winning both games in shootouts, the mentality shifted and has continued each season. 

“That pressure of having to be the best just makes us better,” she said. 

It’s possible Ohio State could have won a national championship already. The Buckeyes won the conference tournament and were playing like the best team in the country before the pandemic canceled the 2020 NCAA tournament. 

Goaltender Andrea Braendli will make her second Olympic appearance for Switzerland in Beijing.

Muzerall isn’t worried as much as when she took the job about how her players might respond to adversity. She has already done more than what was expected of her when she took the job — and that’s still not enough. 

"I think what it's going to take is them continuing to believe in themselves and to understand Wisconsin and Minnesota are just names now,” Muzerall said. “You've got to get into your head that it is not, 'We're trying to split with them.' We're trying to sweep them. That's the mindset they have to understand.”

jmyers@dispatch.com

@_jcmyers