The offseason in any sport has its drama, and that’s certainly the case for the Ohio State women’s hockey team. Coming off a disappointing 10-25-1 season in 2015-16, OSU bid adieu to three transfers — including its captain Alexa Ranahan, and top scorer Claudia Kepler — and its head coach whose job was terminated amid NCAA violations.
On Friday, the Buckeyes are looking to close that chapter and start anew, taking on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in two games this weekend to ring in the new season.
On Sept. 10, OSU named Nadine Muzerall its third coach in as many seasons. Although she hadn’t been on the ice yet with her team, Muzerall will be in New York to coach her new team. Redshirt sophomore goaltender Kassidy Sauve said that the offseason made the team grow up a bit.
“As a whole right now, we’re just trying to come together and play Buckeye hockey,” Sauve said. “This is a new era for us. Having everyone rolling on the same page is really important for us right now.”
Suave started 20 games her freshman year before suffering an injury. She sat out last season — earning a medical redshirt — following double-hip surgery. Sauve said that each hip took about six to nine months to recover and return to action.
“It’s been 581 days since my last game,” she said. “Not that I’ve been counting.”
As for the Buckeyes opponent, RPI has already played a pair of games in the 2016-17 campaign, splitting a two-game set with the University of Maine. Similar to OSU, RPI experienced a difficult season, finishing the year with a 10-17-7 record. The Engineers ranked 29th out of 35 teams in the NCAA in goals scored, compared to OSU’s finish at third-most goals allowed last year.
RPI senior forward Laura Norwood leads her team with 12 shots through two games. She notched a goal and an assist in the team’s 3-1 win in its season opener. To stop her and the rest of the Engineer attack, the Buckeyes will welcome back redshirt freshman defenseman Jincy Dunne who sat out last year after suffering two concussions in a short period of time.
Dunne came into OSU as a highly-touted recruit. She has experience on the international level, playing for U18 Team USA at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship, winning silver medal in 2014 and claiming gold in 2015. Although she has yet to see her in game action, sophomore defenseman Lauren Boyle is excited to see her classmate besider her on the ice.
“I think (Jincy) is one of the best passers I’ve ever played with,” Boyle said. “She has so much composure and poise on the ice that it’s fun to be out there with her and it’s fun to watch.”
OSU was voted to finish second-to-last in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association preseason poll. Last year, Boyle said there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on winning games early, rather than hitting their stride late in the season. That stride never fit, so OSU is attempting to jump out to a quick start in Muzerall’s first season as head coach, along with still working in a new system.
But the Buckeyes seem to believe they are mentally prepared after the program changes that occurred in the offseason.
“I think going forward this year, it’s going to help us when things get tough and things aren’t always going to go the way we want them to in game situations,” said Lauren Spring, OSU junior forward. “Having to go through adversity early on can be a good thing for teams.”
OSU will likely undergo a learning process with a new coaching staff, but two wins this weekend is definitely on the minds of the team.
“I think it would put a lot of confidence behind us and have a little more trust in the process of placing the staff and getting the whole program going in the right direction,” Boyle said. “It kind of all depends on how the team all clicks together. We’re all learning new systems.”