The Ohio State women’s ice hockey team did not face any teams on the schedule, but that didn’t mean it took the week off — only the second so far this season — before focusing on its final series of 2015 calendar year.
OSU held practice Tuesday through Saturday of last week before resuming a normal week of practice before its series against Minnesota Duluth (7-10-1) this weekend. With three weeks off after Saturday, the team is not focused on the somewhat irregular schedule.
“It didn’t feel like a weekend off,” senior forward Melani Moylan said. “I think everyone knows that any team in the (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) is strong competition, you can’t take a weekend off.”
Moylan, who played on OSU’s top line with senior Kendall Curtis and junior Claudia Kepler during the Windjammer Classic in Vermont, is expected to open the weekend in that spot as the team looks to create more offense against a Minnesota Duluth team that has allowed only eight goals in its last five games.
“(Curtis) and (Kepler) are really good goal scorers,” Moylan said. “I think me being with or without them, they know how to get the team going and starting off right. I’m not worried.”
Moylan is not the only skater in a different role this weekend. Senior Julia McKinnon is expected to play her third and fourth games of the season at forward. The British Columbia product sat out the first two games of the year as she recovered from ankle surgery but played the next dozen on defense.
Despite being one of OSU’s better offensive players in the 2014-15 campaign, McKinnon has tallied just four points in 14 games so far this season.
“I am here to score goals,” McKinnon said. “But this year has just been different being put on defense and just with the surgery, but I can’t make excuses, (I) just have to go out there and score some goals this weekend.”
With McKinnon likely back at forward, OSU is encouraged that it will be able to create more offensive chances. After the first 14 games without McKinnon’s offensive prowess, the coaching staff recognized the need for a change.
“She’s so versatile,” assistant coach Carson Dugan said. “She’s one of our smartest players, she can play different positions so she’s definitely helping us by doing that.”
With redshirt junior Bryanna Neuwald expected to miss her eighth and ninth straight games of the season over the weekend, sophomore Julianna Iafallo is set to play defense this weekend, making her the third skater in a new role.
Moylan, who replaced Iafallo to join the top unit with Kepler and Curtis, fancies herself a different player from her linemates.
“I’m no goal scorer,” Moylan said. “I’m going to go in the corner and get (Curtis) or (Kepler) the puck, whereas their line of (Maddy Field, Lauren Spring and McKinnon), all three of them work well together at scoring.”
With McKinnon playing on the team’s de facto second line, Duggan expects the Buckeyes to give Minnesota Duluth several different looks in different styles of play.
“Every successful team has depth,” Duggan said. “A lot of times coaching staffs in the league do so much preparation, so much video, some love to line match, so it’s nice to have a different look on each line.”
McKinnon’s versatility on the ice illustrates what Duggan means by “different look” on the lines.
“With McKinnon back at forward with her speed and size and creativity,” Duggan said, “she just can create so much.”
OSU recognizes that its skaters playing in roles they are more familiar with will make the team more dynamic.
“Having a grinding line and a scoring line is important,” McKinnon said. “When we played against Vermont, each line scored a goal. When we’re not getting everyone going a team can shut us down.”
OSU is scheduled to drop the puck against Minnesota Duluth at 7:07 p.m. on Friday and 4:07 p.m. on Saturday.