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Women’s Hockey: No. 7 Ohio State opens season with heightened expectations

Ohio State then-redshirt sophomore defender Jincy Dunne (33) attempts to stop a fast break in the first period of the game against Minnesota on Jan. 19. Ohio State won 3-2. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Managing Editor for Design

Last season was a journey of new successes for the Ohio State women’s hockey team. For the first time in program history, the Buckeyes made it to the Frozen Four where they suffered a heartbreaking loss to eventual national champions, Clarkson University, 1-0 in overtime.

One of Ohio State’s major strengths from one season ago is gone.

Redshirt senior Kassidy Sauve, the most decorated goaltender in Ohio State history, transferred, over the summer, to the team that defeated the Buckeyes in the Frozen Four: back-to-back national champions in No. 1 Clarkson. This left No. 7 Ohio State with a question mark of who will replace her between the pipes in the upcoming season.

Even without Sauve at goalie, Ohio State is looking to build off of last season’s accomplishments and make another run deep into the postseason.

“There’s a lot of energy out on the ice,” head coach Nadine Muzerall said. “They got a taste of the blood last year, and that was a very disappointing loss to Clarkson. But the important thing is that they learned from it, and you can tell by their preparation over the summer and the way they came in in late August. They have a lot of fuel and are ready to go.”

The team will be led by captain Jincy Dunne, a redshirt junior defenseman who, along with sophomore teammate Emma Maltais, lead the team in assists (24) and recorded 75 blocks.

As one of three Buckeyes selected to compete in the USA vs Canada series, Dunne has firmly established herself as a leader in the Ohio State locker room, according to her head coach.

“Jincy is going to quarterback our blue line,” Muzerall said. “She has an amazing hockey IQ and sense of the game. She can see the play unfolding before it actually does. She has a calm demeanor and a lot of experience, so we’re looking for her intelligence and leadership this season.”

Maltais had an impressive rookie season, leading the team with 40 points scored. The forward was honored as WCHA Rookie of the Year for the 2017-18 season, and a USCHO All-Rookie Team member.

Now, as a sophomore, Maltais has experience to help the players experiencing college hockey for the first time.

“I think this season is all about moving forward,” Maltais said. “Last season was one of the greatest experiences of my entire hockey career. We got some great freshman coming in though and we’re all excited to get them started and get everyone going. I am really hyped up and can’t wait to get our first game on the ice under our belt.”

Ohio State has other tools at their disposal on the offensive side. The Buckeyes are returning their top three scorers from last season in Maltais, senior forward Madison Field and sophomore forward Tatum Skaggs.

Field scored 30 points last season for the second consecutive time at Ohio State and had a career high of 19 goals. Skaggs led both the team and the WCHA with 23 goals scored, and finished second on the team with 37 total points.

The Buckeyes have a couple Olympians joining the fray also. Freshman Sara Saekkinen played for Finland in the 2018 Winter Olympics, appearing in six games and won a bronze medal for her efforts. Freshman goaltender Andrea Braendli will also join Ohio State, who served as the backup goaltender for Switzerland in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Braendli is one of the few goaltenders expected to step up and perform along with last season’s backup, sophomore goalie Amanda Zeglen.

One major difference for Ohio State this year is they can no longer surprise opponents and make the same sort of cinderella run. This year, the Buckeyes’ talent will be a known commodity and with that label comes the pressure of living up to expectations.

“A lot of sports are just as mental as it is physical,” Muzerall said. “Now that people are expecting us to be good, they are going to be giving it their all against us. But now we have a lot of girls who have that experience from last year in the Frozen Four. We just take things one game at a time, focus on our culture instead of worrying about last year and the Frozen Four.”

Ohio State opens play this weekend against Quinnipiac with two road games on Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game is set to start at 6:00 p.m. and Saturday’s game is set for 2:00 p.m.

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