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Women’s Hockey: No. 5 Ohio State heads into showdown at Boston College for NCAA semifinal berth

Ohio State redshirt sophomore defender Jincy Dunne (33) prepares to send the puck back down the ice in the first period of the game against Minnesota on Jan. 19. Ohio State won 3-2. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

The No. 5 Ohio State women’s hockey team will head to Boston for the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament game against No. 4 Boston College at 1 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals.

The Buckeyes (23-10-4, 14-6-4-3 WCHA) enter the matchup following a 2-1 loss to Minnesota in the WCHA tournament. The Golden Gophers are the seven seed and go up against No. 2 Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Ohio State freshman forward Tatum Skaggs said the team expects a tough game this weekend.

“It’ll definitely be a hard-fought game,” Skaggs said. “It’s not going to be easy. We are both a top-10 team. We definitely know they can move the puck. They’re fast and so are we. It’s just going to come down to who plays better and who shows up.”

The Eagles (30-4-3, 19-2-3 Hockey East) are the second-highest scoring team in the NCAA, averaging 4.19 goals per game. Boston College also ranks third on the power play, holding a 25.66 percent success rate on the season.

Boston College has the top-two scorers in the nation in freshman forward Daryl Watts and sophomore forward Caitrin Lonergan. Watts has 42 goals and 82 points on the season, with Lonergan lagging not far behind with 30 goals and 75 points.

On the back end, senior goalie Katie Burt has started all 37 games for the Eagles and holds a .932 save percentage and a 1.95 goals against average.

Ohio State head coach Nadine Muzerall will coach opposite long-time friend and colleague Boston College associate head coach Courtney Kennedy.

“The associate head coach is one of my best friends and the godmother to my children,” Muzerall said. “We played at Minnesota together. It’ll be a fun little battle between buddies behind the bench. We won’t be buddies for those two hours though.”

NCAA tournament selection drama

On Sunday night in a Minnesota airport, the Buckeyes gathered around a computer to watch the NCAA Selection Show to find out if they had made it into the final eight for the first time in program history.

Moments after Boston College was announced as the No. 4 seed, the Buckeyes heard their school selected to face off against the Eagles, sending the team into a frenzy in the airport.

“It’s unreal,” Ohio State senior forward Dani Sadek said. “It’s been a long ride. Just to end it like this, has been amazing. We’ve been through so much as a team this year.”

Before the Buckeyes were selected for the tournament, Muzerall told the team that no matter what happens, the group needs to be proud of the season it had turned in and understand that the decision was going to be out of their hands.

“We can’t change anything at this juncture in the season,” Muzerall said. “As we sit here for the next seven to eight minutes, we are waiting for our fate. If we get into the selection show and are chosen to advance into the NCAA final eight. Then we are never going to let anyone dictate our future. We have to control our own destiny.”

At the beginning of the year, the Buckeyes laid out the expectations heading into the year. And for the entire time, those goals all ended with a national championship trophy being brought back to Columbus.

“We all had one common goal,” Skaggs said. “That was to win a national championship. Now that we’re here it feels real. We know we should be here, because we’ve worked our butts off this whole year.”

This season has been filled with program firsts. The Ohio State 2017-18 women’s hockey team finished with the best regular-season record in program history. Redshirt junior goaltender Kassidy Sauve compiled the most saves in program history. Muzerall was honored as the WCHA Coach of the Year and freshman forward Emma Maltais earned the WCHA Rookie of the Year.

“I think the culture we have created has created a baseline for what is expected,” Sauve said. “Now, we are expected to be successful and that we are an NCAA contender. We just have such a special group, it’s really easy to stay grounded and confident.”

Skaggs said the motivation for the Buckeyes going into the quarterfinals has come from the motivation to play well for the teammates they have skated beside all season.

“We all have a mentality of ‘Do it for the girl next to you,’” Skaggs said. “Our motto is ‘Do it for her.’ That could be for the girl that has a dream of playing at Ohio State, or it could be the girl right next you. [Muzerall] brought that in and I think it helped us with our success this year.”

The Buckeyes will face off against The Eagles in the quarterfinals at the Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts at 1 p.m. Saturday. The winner will advance to the NCAA Frozen Four.

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