The Ohio State women’s ice hockey team is preparing for a long road swing — it will not play in Columbus again until Dec. 11 — so it is preparing to take its game on the road.
First, the Buckeyes travel this weekend to Grand Forks, North Dakota, for two games against University of North Dakota (6-2-2), winners of two of its last four contests.
Despite outshooting Bemidji State in both losses of its series last weekend, the OSU offense could only generate two goals. The team took to the ice for its final practice on Thursday before leaving expecting to score more goals over the weekend.
“Until they decide on a different way to decide hockey games, we need to score goals,” assistant coach Carson Duggan said. “I thought we had a really solid weekend and weren’t rewarded.”
Junior forward Claudia Kepler, who leads the team in shots with 28, wants to see her forward unit score more goals.
“Our line, (Kendall Curtis) is a very skilled player, and I’d say one of my strengths is shooting the puck,” Kepler said. “So we try to use our strengths as much as possible.”
Curtis, the senior forward who scored the lone goal in the loss last Saturday, welcomed the pressure she, Kepler and sophomore Julianna Iafallo put on themselves in order for the team to be successful. But Kepler took it one step further, saying she wants to generate more scoring on her own.
“There have been a lot of times I should have taken the puck to the net but instead I kind of held up and looked to make a pass,” Kepler said.
The Buckeyes were off on Wednesday to coincide with classes being canceled for Veterans Day. With a road trip, the first in a month, the members of the team think the odd schedule is an opportunity to shake up their play.
“I think these girls have been working really hard on the ice,” Duggan said. “The conditioning is obviously still there, but it’s nice to get a little break.”
In Duggan’s opinion, the break was the opportunity to spark the offense without taking to the ice.
“You want to keep the edge and the excitement in coming to the rink, so a day off like that was a mental break, which I think is just as important,” Duggan said.
Kepler, who is second to Curtis in goals scored on the season, will look to simplify her game in order to generate more offense for the team.
“Creating scoring chances, you’ve got to shoot to get chances,” Kepler said.
The Buckeyes have eight defenders on their roster, but will head to North Dakota with only five ready to play on Friday night. Freshman Jincy Dunne and her sophomore sister, Jessica, have yet to play this season. Redshirt junior Bryanna Neuwald did not play last Saturday and is expected to be sidelined this weekend too.
Shorthanded, coach Jenny Potter played senior forward Julia McKinnon on defense, where she is set to remain against North Dakota.
“It’s obviously hard with five D-men and one forward back there,” junior defender Alexa Ranahan said. “She’s doing an amazing job, you can’t tell she’s new to it.”
Ranahan believes despite the injuries, the defense has turned into a strength for the Buckeyes, who have allowed only eight goals in their last four contests.
“It’s definitely helpful in our situation right now where we are struggling to score,” Ranahan said. “I think as long as we stay solid on (defense) and score a little we’ll be good.”
Strong defense will be important for the Buckeyes on the road this weekend, which may have another low-scoring series in front of them. North Dakota has allowed only 21 goals this season, 23 fewer than the Buckeyes.
Duggan, whose skaters have been focusing on scoring more goals, welcomes the opportunity to face another tough defensive squad only one week after dropping both games to the Beavers.
“We’ve got to stick to our systems without getting frustrated,” Duggan said. “Otherwise you’ll start to grip your stick tighter, but once we get one, it’ll turn into two and three.”
Ranahan, who last week was named a co-captain, said she expects the defense to continue to perform while the offense looks to get into form.
“You can always expect good competition,” Ranahan said. “We know it’s always really tough against North Dakota. I know I love the nitty-gritty battles.”
North Dakota will take to the ice against the Buckeyes off 13 days of rest. It last played Minnesota on Oct. 30, winning 4-3 to split its weekend series with the Golden Gophers.
The Buckeyes lost both their contests to Minnesota by a combined score of 17-4 to start a home stand that would finish 2-4.
Puck drops in Grand Forks at 3:07 p.m. on Saturday and 2:07 p.m. on Sunday.
Correction 9/13: An earlier version of this story said the two games were to take place on Friday and Saturday, when in fact they are on Saturday and Sunday.