Top-ranked Buckeyes coach feeling a bit nostalgic as women's hockey showdown with Gophers looms
No extra motivation is needed when Ohio State and Minnesota meet at Ridder Arena this weekend. The Buckeyes are top-ranked and have not lost in regulation since October, at the hands of the Gophers.
MINNEAPOLIS — As head coach of the defending women’s hockey national champion Ohio State Buckeyes, Nadine Muzerall is one who generally looks forward to the next game, the next recruit, the next challenge to come her way. But as she prepped her top-ranked team for a trip to Minnesota to take on the third-ranked Gophers, she allowed herself a moment to look back with some nostalgia.
The University of Minnesota campus is a vastly different place than it was two decades ago, when Muzerall arrived there from Toronto to play hockey for an upstart Gophers program. This week she admitted missing one gone-but-not forgotten campus eatery that has given way to the high rise housing dominating Stadium Village now.
“I am devastated that the Big Ten closed,” she said, with a laugh. “I loved the subs. You could always go there for a good supper, and that’s where I first ran into my husband. We knew of each other. He was a football player, but we first got connected at the Big Ten. And now our memory of where we first connected is gone. Everything is turning high rise with Target and Walgreens.”
From their home base at an on-campus hotel this weekend, the Buckeyes will look to avenge the lone regulation loss they’ve suffered this season, way back in late October at the hands of the Gophers. Muzerall said that the Buckeyes don’t need to use that rare setback (they are 24-2-2 overall) as any kind of extra motivation, especially when playing the program where she played and was an assistant coach.
“When you’re playing a top team in your conference, it’s always a rivalry,” Muzerall said, noting that despite owning the most recent NCAA champions banner, historically the Gophers have been the powerhouse, while the Buckeyes are more of a Cinderella story.
Coming off a perfect January, the Gophers are in the midst of a schedule gauntlet which started well, winning a pair of games at Minnesota Duluth last weekend. Now it’s the Buckeyes, followed by Wisconsin, and then the playoffs loom.
“We’re ramping up. It’s great. Six games against top…opponents, big rivals with all three of them,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said this week. “We love it. It’s why players come to the University of Minnesota. It’s the games they want to play in, and this is another weekend of that.”
The Gophers’ two-headed goal-scoring monster that is the tandem of Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle is well-documented. For the Buckeyes, star forward Sophie Jaques is the name everyone knows, and she leads the team with 19 goals, but offensive balance has been one key in their drive to repeat as national champions, with Jennifer Gardiner and Paetyn Levis pulling a good portion of the scoreboard weight.
“Jenn Gardiner has been finally shooting the puck. That’s something that we’ve been pushing for her for years,” Muzerall said. “I always joke with my team that you’re never going to get in trouble from me for shooting the puck, because I never passed. I only have the most goals in the history of Minnesota (women’s hockey) because I didn’t pass.”
See, sometimes nostalgia for the college days can be fun.