It’s going to be quite a weekend for hockey teams from Columbus. The Columbus Blue Jackets are retiring Rick Nash’s number at tonight’s game against the Boston Bruins at Nationwide Arena, while a couple miles away, Ohio State’s men’s hockey team will be hosting Penn State in the second game of their Big Ten Tournament series. But, the most interesting game on Saturday will take place in Minneapolis, as the Ohio State women’s hockey team will take on Wisconsin in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinal at Ridder Arena.
The Buckeyes and Badgers have played four games this year, with Wisconsin winning two games in Madison in October, while Ohio State took the two games in Columbus in February. Last year the teams split their four regular season matchups as well before Wisconsin won the WCHA Final Four Championship with a 3-2 win over Ohio State in overtime, and followed that up with a 3-2 win over the Buckeyes in the NCAA’s Frozen Four semifinal.
Ohio State is 27-6 on the season, with a 21-6 conference record, which has moved the Buckeyes to second in the national rankings. After falling 3-2 to Bemidji State on Feb. 11, Ohio State closed the regular season with a five-game winning streak. The last two of those wins came last week against St. Cloud State in the WCHA Quarterfinals. The Buckeyes opened up the best-of-three series with a 6-0 victory on Friday night before securing their spot in the next round with a 3-0 win on Saturday.
The first game of last weekend’s series against St. Cloud State saw the Buckeyes jump out to an early lead when Jenna Buglioni scored her 18th goal of the season 2:28 into the game. Then Paetyn Levis took over, scoring the next four goals for Ohio State before Liz Schepers capped off the scoring by netting a goal with less than four minutes left in the game.
The four goal game from Levis was the first of her career, and the second for Ohio State this year. Schepers also scored four goals in a game last month, also against St. Cloud State. Levis now has 22 goals this year, which leads Ohio State, and is currently tied for 10th-most in a season in program history. Schepers sits two goals behind Levis, while Buglioni, Sophie Jaques, and Gabby Rosenthal each have 18 goals so far this year.
The Buckeyes were able to close out St. Cloud State on Saturday with a 3-0 victory. Ohio State didn’t quite overwhelm St. Cloud State in Saturday’s game, but they still had little trouble ending the Huskies’ season. After putting 60 shots on goal in Friday’s game, Ohio State had 35 on Saturday. By comparison, St. Cloud State had just 13 shots on Friday and 11 shots on goal on Saturday.
What has set Ohio State apart from a lot of their competition this season has been their play at goaltender. On Friday, Amanda Thiele got the start and pushed her record to 13-3 on the season, with the shutout being her fourth of the year. Saturday saw Andrea Braendli play in her first game for the Buckeyes since Jan. 7, as she left the team to play in Beijing for Switzerland in the Olympics. The Swiss goalie recorded her 10th win and second shutout of the season.
Just in front of Thiele or Braendli is Sophie Jaques, who is one of the best defenseman in the country. Jaques was recently named as Top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, making her just one of two defenseman to be a finalist for this year’s award. The senior has already been announced as the winner of the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Award. Jaques has 54 points this year, which is fourth among skaters this year, and is the most points by a true defenseman in nine seasons.
It helps Jaques that her coach was also a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award. While playing for the University of Minnesota, Nadine Muzerall was considered for the award in 1998 as a freshman and in 2001 as a senior. Muzerall is now in her sixth season as head coach of the Buckeyes, compiling a 122-63-17 record so far in Columbus, with two Frozen Four semifinal appearances. This week, Muzerall was named WCHA Coach of the Year for the third time, with her previous honors coming in 2018 and 2020.
The winner of the semifinal between Ohio State and Wisconsin will move on to play in the championship game on Sunday against the winner of the game between Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth, which will be played earlier on Saturday. It should be a thrilling weekend of hockey action in Minneapolis with all four teams ranked in the top-10. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, while the others will likely receive at-large bids to the tournament. The NCAA Tournament will expand by three teams to 11 teams this year, so there might be room for a fourth team from the WCHA.
No matter what happens this weekend, it is going to be hard to keep Ohio State out of this year’s NCAA Tournament with what they have done throughout the season. After coming up short a couple times so far while coaching Ohio State, this feels like the season that the Buckeyes have what it takes to win it all.