The Ohio State women’s hockey team knew it needed a good start to the season, but getting a good scare wasn’t in the original plans.
Following a 1-0 win against New Hampshire on Friday, the Buckeyes completed their home series sweep against the Wildcats with a 4-3 late-game victory Saturday.
OSU sophomore forward Claudia Kepler’s goal with 32 seconds remaining in Saturday’s game saved the Buckeyes (2-0-0) from a collapse that saw their early 3-0 lead erased.
“We’re really a cohesive unit that’s working well together right now and you can feel the energy in the locker room and while we’re on the bench,” senior forward Kayla Sullivan said. “We’re comfortable working with each other already.”
Fresh off a shutout victory on Friday night, OSU jumped out to a quick start on Saturday but was unable to hold its advantage.
First period goals by senior forward Danielle Gagne, Sullivan and sophomore defenseman Alexa Ranahan were answered in the second and third periods when the Wildcats recorded three-consecutive tallies.
“I think that we started gambling a little bit and getting away from playing some fundamentally-sound hockey,” OSU coach Nate Handrahan said. “That can’t happen as we go forward.”
Kepler’s goal in the waning seconds of Saturday’s game marked her second game-winning goal in as many days.
Friday’s game wasn’t nearly as hectic, but still challenged the Buckeyes. Once Kepler’s second-period goal gave OSU a 1-0 lead, the team was forced to defend its advantage the rest of the game.
The Buckeye defense faced its biggest test when Gagne took an interference penalty with 3:07 remaining in regulation. OSU’s penalty kill was perfect in the game, as it was on Saturday as well.
As a whole, OSU’s special teams success was limited to the penalty kill. The Buckeyes went zero-for-seven on the power play during the series and struggled to find structure with the man advantage.
The power play is a work in progress, Handrahan said.
OSU allowed a shorthanded goal on Saturday, an occurrence that happened six times last season.
In net, the Buckeyes were backstopped by freshman goalie Kassidy Sauve who picked up a shutout in her first collegiate start. Sauve combined to make 46 saves on 49 shots on the weekend.
“Knowing that we have her behind us it gives us the confidence to play more aggressive and maybe a little riskier,” redshirt-sophomore defenseman Bryanna Neuwald said. “It’s comforting.”
Next to Sauve, freshman forward Julianna Iafallo was the Buckeyes’ most notable rookie. Iafallo was a top-six forward and had four shots during the series.
“I think our freshmen in general are a little bit tentative,” Handrahan said “They’re dipping their toe in the water when I need them to do a cannon ball and get in the pool.”
Five freshmen made their Buckeye debuts against New Hampshire.
OSU is now undefeated in its last five season openers.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to play at Wisconsin on Friday at 8:07 p.m. and Sunday at 2:07 p.m.