With 13 days off since its last game, the Ohio State women’s ice hockey team is eager to hit the ice to face off against Bemidji State (8-2-2) for a Friday and Saturday weekend series.
The Beavers squad coming to Columbus represents something of a different challenge for the Buckeyes, who have faced high-scoring programs such as Wisconsin and Minnesota early this season.
Bemidji State, which is located roughly 200 miles northwest of Minneapolis, is known for its stalwart defense in recent years, finishing fourth in goals allowed in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association last season and allowing only 10 in 12 games so far this year.
“I think it’s going to be a close battle. They’re a tough defensive team, and they’re really tough around their net,” junior forward Claudia Kepler said. “They have a lot of strong players who can push you away from their crease.”
Occupying the crease for Bemidji State is likely to be junior goaltender Brittni Mowat, whose 1.07 goals-against average is fifth best in the country. The Manitoba, Ontario, native has started all but one game for the Beavers this year.
Despite facing a tough defensive squad, the Buckeyes are anxious to continue to look for scoring opportunities after scoring nine goals in their two wins over Minnesota State.
“I think scoring as a whole is at a premium in women’s hockey right now, so we’ll look to push the tempo and try to control the pace of the game,” assistant coach Carson Duggan said. “We’ll try to take it to them early.”
Executing early will be important for an OSU team that had Halloween weekend off from playing other teams. Relegated instead to competing against themselves, the Buckeyes continued to work on improving their conditioning and skill.
“We didn’t take a single day off, we worked really hard last week, we even worked hard on Saturday,” senior forward Melani Moylan said.
To keep up with its conditioning program, the team held a pair of intra-squad games last Friday and Saturday to simulate a normal weekend series, which the Buckeyes believe is important to keep from getting rusty before a long stretch of the season.
“It’s a little tough when you’re not preparing for a team, but you have to keep your foot on the gas pedal, we didn’t really let them off the hook,” Duggan said. “We skated all week, we skated on Saturday to try to emulate a weekend game.”
The skaters recognized that the Beavers are quite a different team from what they normally see in their conference opponents.
“They’re a lot different team to consider,” Moylan said. “All they want to do is block shots, and it’s going to be a challenge for us. It’s a challenge that we’re excited for, and I think we’re ready for it.”
Kepler, who along with the rest of the team has been working on the type of gritty goals she believes could be difficult to score this weekend, feels that they have been looking for opportunities to get more creative in the offensive zone.
“Any way to change it up,” Kepler said. “We’re trying to look to get more creative, we’re trying to get everyone involved and into the play.”
Members of the program are eager to get back on the ice after almost two weeks off, admitting they may have gotten a little restless.
“It’s not like any of the other teams had a break,” Moylan said. “Bemidji played last week and we know they’ll be ready to play this weekend, so it was good for us to get a scrimmage in.”
As their most recent series against Minnesota State got further in the rear-view mirror, their practices got more intense, even physical.
“Especially on the weekend, we had two long practices to get a game’s worth of competition in,” Kepler said.
The competition against other teams returns this weekend when the Buckeyes drop the puck at the ice rink at 6:07 p.m. on Friday and 2:07 p.m. on Saturday.
Coach Jenny Potter announced this week that she and her coaching staff have selected new captains: Moylan and junior defender Alexa Ranahan will both wear the ‘C’ for the rest of the season, while senior forwards Kendall Curtis and Julia McKinnon will serve as alternates.
“There’s a ton of leaders on this team,” Duggan said. “But when it came down to it, they are all about Buckeye hockey, they have the characteristics of leaders, they set an example for the rest of the team to follow. On and off the ice their work ethic is awesome.
“It’s nice to have some recognized leaders, and I think it’s what we need right now.”