The Ohio State women’s hockey team will travel to St. Cloud State this weekend where it hopes to snap a five-game losing streak and regain NCAA tournament positioning with a season sweep against the Huskies.
Despite being in last place in the WCHA, St. Cloud State (8-18-2, 3-14 WCHA) lost by only one goal in its two previous 3-2 losses against the No. 9 Buckeyes (15-11, 9-9 WCHA) in Columbus on Nov. 2 and 3.
“They have the two most superior goaltenders in the country,” Ohio State head coach Nadine Muzerall said. “[Janine] Alder’s their backbone to their team.”
St. Cloud State junior goalie Janine Alder has the highest save percentage in the WCHA at .940 and played for the Swiss national team in the past two Winter Olympics, receiving a bronze medal for her contributions in 2014.
The Buckeyes have been outscored 30-10 during their five-game drought, putting them at odds against a goalie in Alder, who is coming off a season-high 50 saves against No. 1 Wisconsin.
“We’ve been struggling to get the puck in the net,” Ohio State senior forward Madison Field said. “We don’t need to focus too much on their goalie. We know she’s a good goalie; our whole league has good goalies.”
Only the top eight teams qualify for the NCAA tournament, which is often decided through the Pairwise rankings.
Ohio State currently is tied for No. 8 in the league, which means it has the potential to be on the outside looking in, but Muzerall said she isn’t harping on it to her players.
“We know that these two games are extremely important for us,” Muzerall said. “I’m not talking about it too much now because I think they know, and the pressure’s already weighing in on them.”
Ohio State boasts a Swiss Olympic goalie of its own in freshman Andrea Braendli, who played alongside Alder in 2018, but has also given up 14 goals in her past seven periods.
Muzerall said Braendli is expected to get back in the rhythm against a St. Cloud State offense that has put up just 1.93 goals per game on the season, tied for 11th fewest in the NCAA.
“Hopefully that motivates Andrea that she’s going to be competing against her Swiss nemesis, as they are No. 1 and No. 2 in Switzerland,” Muzerall said.
St. Cloud State sophomore goalie Emma Polusny has split games with Alder all year, with 13 starts on the season to Alder’s 15.
In her freshman season, Polusny set single-season Huskies records with four shutouts and a 2.20 goals-against average to go along with a top 10 NCAA save percentage at .934.
Despite having given up eight more goals than Alder in two fewer games this year, Polusny’s play has yielded better team results. Her 5-7-1 season record is favorable to Alder’s, which, at 3-11-1, gives her the lowest winning percentage in the WCHA.
St. Cloud State jumped out to a 2-0 lead at Ohio State in their Nov. 2 matchup, before a pair of goals from Field and another from sophomore forward Emma Maltais gave the Buckeyes the ultimate edge. However, overcoming early deficits has not been Ohio State’s strong suit of late, having allowed single periods of four, five and six goals during its losing skid.
Despite a 5-7 away record this season, Field said the Buckeyes enjoy playing on the road at St. Cloud State.
“We do like playing on that Olympic-sized sheet,” Field said. “I think we can play that to our advantage. We can use our speed.”
Ohio State junior forward Olivia Soares said the veterans are largely responsible for displaying a heightened intensity and sense of urgency at this late stage in the season.
“For our newcomers, we’re trying to implement for them to understand that every weekend’s a playoff from now on,” Soares said. “It’s an important time to shift.”
Game One begins at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota, with a 4:07 p.m. puck drop on Friday.