Ohio State women's hockey ready to 'start the path' for second straight NCAA championship

Colin Gay
The Columbus Dispatch

Emma Maltais didn’t enjoy watching Minnesota celebrate last Saturday. 

But it was all the sixth-year Ohio State hockey forward could do, having suffered a 3-1 loss to the Golden Gophers in the WCHA Final Faceoff championship. It was different, she said, a celebration that carried more weight than it used to. 

“I think that ‘We want to beat Ohio State,’ you can feel that and you can feel that rivalry going on,” Maltais said. 

To Ohio State coach Nadine Muzerall, that moment was all she needed. She didn’t say anything. Instead, she let the team sit with the loss and allowed it to fester and fuel. 

Muzerall knew Ohio State couldn't experience that moment again if it wanted to win a second straight national championship. And now, heading into the NCAA regional final against Quinnipiac on Saturday, she can tell her team is hungry for a repeat. 

“I’m excited for them to unload tomorrow and start the path to winning it all,” Muzerall said. 

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If anything, Ohio State’s loss to Minnesota — the team’s fifth of the season in 38 games — brought Muzerall back to the foundation she set for the team when she took over as coach prior to the 2016-17 season. 

It’s what she calls the “Rocky mentality,” centered around a relentlessness that has become the program’s calling card through forced turnovers, a persistent forecheck or pushing the pace offensively. 

To Quinnipiac coach Cassandra Turner, whose team recorded a double-overtime loss to Ohio State in the 2022 NCAA regional final, this is the Buckeyes’ signature. 

“They are a relentless hockey team,” Turner said. “They have a reputation for never quitting.” 

Muzerall feels she has the right formula with Ohio State, combining swagger with skills generated from players such as Maltais, an Olympic gold medalist, and fifth-year defenseman Sophie Jaques, a back-to-back top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, given to the top female college hockey player in the country.

Jan 13, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Teammates mob Ohio State Buckeyes defenseman Sophie Jaques (18) after she scored the game-winner in overtime during the NCAA women's hockey game against the Wisconsin Badgers at the OSU Ice Rink. Ohio State won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

For Muzerall, that combination of skill and belief is powerful. And she knows it’s something that hasn’t always been there for Ohio State. 

“We can’t forget where we came from,” Muzerall said. “So you find your little pieces to remind them of who we are and never forgetting. They understand what’s at stake, and they want it so badly.” 

In the days leading up to the regional final, Maltais sent to Muzerall and her teammates a video of Ohio State in 2018 celebrating its first ever NCAA Tournament bid. And while Maltais is the only holdover from that team that advanced to the Frozen Four, she believed there was a message in it for everyone on the roster. 

“Just to see how pure and exciting and how much of a surprise and how excited we were,” Maltais said, “I think it’s very important that we not forget that and to bring that motivation every game.” 

Jaques shares that motivation, something, she said, Ohio State has been building up to all season. 

“We’ve always been hungry, knowing the national championship was the end goal,” Jaques said. “It’s finally time to actually work toward that.”

Ohio State will take on Quinnipiac in the NCAA regional final at the OSU Ice Rink 5 p.m. Saturday.