Ohio State junior forward Grace Zarzecki (7) battles for a puck with a South Korea player in the first period of their exhibition match the South Korean Olympic teama on Sept. 26 at the OSU Ice Rink in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes prevailed 8-0. Credit: Jeff Helfrich | Lantern Reporter

After last season’s abrupt ending in the first round of the WCHA tournament, the Ohio State Buckeyes are focused on significant improvements this season.

Head coach Nadine Muzerall is back for her second season in Columbus with what she believes is a team better built for success.

“Last year, we were playing with 20 players. Often times kids were injured and sick, and we had very, very little depth on the defensive side and overplaying our players and their time on ice was ridiculous,” Muzerall said. “Now, having the quality on bench this year, the girls will get out and be able to perform better because their time on ice will be more standard.”

While Muzerall was encouraged by the increased depth, she mentioned that one of the team’s biggest offseason acquisitions was not a player, but assistant coach Peter Elander, formerly the associate coach at North Dakota.

“A lot of people are going after the players from North Dakota and I thought that was a short-term advantage whereas Peter will be long-term with his hockey IQ and with his wealth and knowledge of the game as well as his connections to the European players,” Muzerall said

Improving the roster and shoring up the coaching staff were important moves for the second-year head coach when trying to establish her blueprint for success for this program. However, Muzerall said the experience she gained in her first season of coaching will prove important as her team continues to evolve and improve.

“I’ll be honest and say I came in with my hair on fire last year,” she said. “I was never on the ice with [the team] before our first game. So it’s nice that we had some preseason and you know the past two weeks of practice that if they don’t play well, I think that that will be my fault then. But I just understand the ins and outs better of Ohio State University and how things are run as a new head coach.”

Overall, Muzerall and the team have their eyes set on contending atop the conference, with revenge against North Dakota being the first priority. Goaltender Kassidy Sauve, who was selected as preseason conference player of the year, believes this team can compete and is encouraged by the young talent on the team.

Having missed the entire 2015-16 season with an injury, Sauve bounced back to emerge as one of the best goalies in women’s hockey, setting Ohio State records with saves (1,135) and save percentage (.942) for a single season.

After standing out as one of the leaders on the ice for the Buckeyes last season, Sauve said she sees herself as a leader, but not in the more conventional sense.

“Not so much a vocal leader but just try and do my thing on the ice and make the team comfortable knowing I have their backs,” Sauve said.

Forward Maddy Field, who led the team in all offensive statistics last season, said that in the offseason her focus was mainly strengthening her defensive skills, as Muzerall emphasized her awareness has definitely improved on that end of the ice.

One player Sauve and Field noted will impress people this season is Emma Maltais, the freshman forward who many expect to make some noise in the WCHA and add depth to the team. Both Sauve and Field believe this team has what it takes to advance further into the playoffs than it did last season.

“I think there’s a lot of talent, like I said earlier, and the chemistry, and you really need both in order to win a championship,” Sauve said. “I do believe this team has really good cohesion right now, so I think that we’ll be very successful.”

The Buckeyes take on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Friday, September 29 at 6 p.m.