The Ohio State women’s ice hockey team (9-22-1, 5-20-1) returns home after a brief road trip, where it is scheduled to take on the University of North Dakota (15-10-5, 12-9-5) in the final series of the regular season this weekend.
The Buckeyes and Fighting Hawks last played in the middle of November. The two teams split the series, with OSU winning 3-2 in Game 1 before losing 4-1 the following day.
Although it’s currently on a five-game losing streak, OSU hopes to rediscover the winning formula to gain momentum before the playoffs, which begin next weekend.
A quest for consistency
At times in its series against Bemidji State, OSU looked like the hockey team that swept Minnesota State at the end of January. But often that fluid play went astray, resulting in the Buckeyes looking like the team that has struggled so mightily this season.
Assistant coach Joey Olson said finding a way to increase the amount of “high-level play” will be key for OSU chalking up victories.
Furthermore, the team is also drawing confidence from its last home series two weekends ago when it played host to Wisconsin.
“We played probably our best weekend we’ve played this year (against Wisconsin), and I think we’ve just been building off of that,” senior forward Melani Moylan said. “I think we’ve just tried to build off that weekend and continue the positive route for the rest of the season. We worked hard the whole entire game and didn’t take a shift off, so I think we just need to continue with that.”
Olson said he thinks focusing on little details will help the Buckeyes find consistency for a whole 60 minutes.
“Just generating hard work each shift. Doing the simple things,” Olson said. “Making the small plays, simple passes. Getting the puck in deep and really getting a good forecheck on their defensemen and then taking care of our defensive responsibilities shift in and shift out.”
“Gelled as a team”
The team believes it has made major improvements throughout the season because the players have bought into each other and the new coaching staff.
Jenny Potter assumed head-coaching duties during the offseason, and naturally with a change in leadership, difficult patches will appear. An uptick in familiarity with Potter’s schemes for everyone in the program has helped the team wade its way through the unstable waters, Olson said.
“I’d say the No. 1 thing that’s improved is we have really gelled as a team as far as understanding our systems,” Olson said. “Things were a little bit rough at the beginning of the year as far as 25 players trying to understand a new coach’s system, so we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were at the beginning of the year, so that’s a very positive thing.”
Moylan said an improvement in the defensive zone has been a way the team has united and worked together. Initially, the way Potter coached that part of the game was different than what veterans were used to.
“We did a completely new D-zone this year,” Moylan said. “Obviously starting off with that was tough, but we’ve come together and worked hard and understand it now, and I think it’s improved a lot this year.”
Not only has the team had to get used to the habits and systems of the new coaching staff, but the coaches also have adjusted to the players and how to play to their strengths. It’s clear that the pathway for sustained improvement for the Buckeyes is a two-way street.
“At first we might not have had them in the right places to succeed and as we went on throughout the year,” Olson said. “Understanding how to utilize them and what positions to put them in to get the most success for the individual and the team (has been key).”
The puck is scheduled to drop at the OSU Ice Rink at 7:07 p.m. on Friday and 4:07 p.m. on Saturday.
Following the final regular-season series, the seventh-seeded Buckeyes will take on the second-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs on Feb. 26 and 27 in Minneapolis.