The No. 1 Ohio State women’s ice hockey team is preparing to defend its 2022 national championship this weekend, facing off against No. 8 Quinnipiac in the NCAA Tournament regional final.
After falling to No. 2 Minnesota 3-1 in the Final Faceoff Championships last weekend, the Buckeyes (31-5-2, 15-1-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) aim to regain their footing in their fourth-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
If Ohio State can continue its six-game winning streak over the Bobcats (30-9-0, 17-5-0 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference), which includes a 4-3 double overtime victory in last season’s regional final, the team will advance to the Frozen Four.
“I feel that there’s a sense of hunger after losing that last game to clinch the Final Faceoff and try to be repeat winners, so that’s motivation for them,” head coach Nadine Muzerall said. “I think that they still have an immense amount of pride to bring back a national championship to Columbus. We’re taking that one game at a time, understanding that we’re going to play a very good opponent, and we’re just thinking only of Quinnipiac right now.”
Graduate defenseman Sophie Jaques, a top-three finalist for the second-straight season for the 2023 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award with a career-high 22 goals this season, highlighted Muzerall’s view and emphasized the team’s unwavering confidence.
“We’ve had some big wins against top-ranked opponents all throughout the year,” Jaques said. “I don’t think we ever lost faith that we could get here and I think we’re just really excited to get started.”
Graduate forward Emma Maltais ranks sixth nationally with 35 assists this season. She wasn’t on the Ohio State roster on the Buckeyes’ way to their first national championship last season, instead taking to the Olympic stage to guide Team Canada to a gold medal finish in Beijing.
This year, Maltais is eagerly anticipating her role in the final few games.
Maltais reiterated Jaques’ trust in the team’s ability to perform in high-pressure situations, and Maltais looked back on her freshman season in 2017-18 as an assuring reminder of how far the program has come.
“I found the video when we first got a bid to the NCAA Tournament my freshman year,” Maltais said. “It was really cool to look back at that and remember that feeling. I think this year we knew we were going to be No. 1, so when you know it’s coming, it’s less of a sense of nervousness. But I think that passion and that, ‘OK, let’s go,’ is still there.”
The Buckeyes will kick off their tournament run following Quinnipiac’s win over Penn State on Thursday, which ended in a 3-2 triple overtime victory during the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Bobcats tally 3.3 goals per game with a 20.7 percent power play conversion rate, contending with Ohio State’s 4.32 goals per game and conversion rate of 33 percent.
Muzerall said Ohio State will proceed with its signature relentlessness to prevail over the opponent and perform at its peak.
“That’s on me to continue to bring that tempo and that energy for them to not forget where you came from, and your grassroots and who you are,” Muzerall said.
Puck drop is set for 5 p.m. Saturday at the OSU Ice Rink, with a chance to travel to Duluth, Minnesota, for the Frozen Four and second-straight national title on the line.
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