Ohio State's Liz Schepers in front of a player from Minnesota and is looking down at the puck while trying to gain possession of it

Ohio State then-junior forward Liz Schepers (21) battles for the puck during the third period of the game against Minnesota on Oct. 25. Ohio State won 4-3. Credit: John Huether | For The Lantern

In the same month that Big Ten football decided to move forward, collegiate hockey chose to wait.

The Hockey Commissioners Association announced the delay of the season for their 11 conferences, one being the Big Ten, Sept. 10 due to COVID-19 safety concerns. This decision meant the original season start date of Oct. 6 for Ohio State women’s hockey was pushed back even further to a new, not-yet-announced start date.

The HCA’s delay of the season was no surprise for head coach Nadine Muzerall. Muzerall said she was expecting such delay because of the clear transparency of the team’s commissioners.

Muzerall said that Diana Sabau, Ohio State senior deputy athletic director, was on the calls with other athletic directors and kept Muzerall informed of what was happening. 

“You know we have a very good relationship and we communicate very well; we weren’t surprised with the delay,” Muzerall said. 

Senior captain Liz Schepers said she is upset with the announcement after last season’s unfortunate early ending due to COVID-19. The season was halted just three days before the Buckeyes were supposed to head to the NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament. 

“Obviously it’s disappointing. We’re competitors and we want to play, especially with how we went out at the end of last season not getting the chance to kind of finish off what was a great year,” Schepers said.

Schepers appeared in all 38 games in the 2019-20 season and finished the year with 43 points, primarily coming from a team-high and new career-high 22 goals.

The Buckeyes sat at 24-8-6 and had just obtained their first Western Collegiate Hockey Association postseason title before the 2019-20 season was canceled.

COVID-19 concerns ended the Buckeyes’ historic season and only fueled them to start preparing for the 2020-21 season.

“They want to play, you have to understand you win the conference championship, arguably the best conference, the toughest conference in the country and then you get canceled, short-stopped, boom season’s over. It happened so abruptly, and they have a little bitter taste in their mouth,” Muzerall said. “So, the leaders returning have a lot of momentum, have a lot of energy to continue their success.” 

The team has begun in-person training with new restrictions and procedures put in place by the university and athletic program.

The team is currently on an eight-hour-per-week schedule, with four hours for strength and conditioning and the other four for on-ice skill development, Schepers said.

In terms of health and safety protocols, Schepers said the team is split into various groups that they remain with for the entirety of practice. In the weight room, each player has their own rack and goes through each workout individually. 

“They have got it down here, it’s really impressive to see the steps they’ve taken to make sure we’re staying safe,” Schepers said. 

The HCA said in a Sept. 10 press release that the conferences are working together on a safe return to play. The release said that plans for the season will be announced by each conference.

Muzerall approves of this decision compared to the alternative — a full cancelation.

“I would like to give a lot of respect to our commissioner and to the entire board and body for the [Western Collegiate Hockey Association] because I appreciate that they delayed versus canceling the season so abruptly,” Muzerall said.