Postseason play has arrived for the Ohio State women’s ice hockey team, as the seventh-seeded Buckeyes (10-23-1, 6-21-1) are preparing to head northwest to Minneapolis. There, a best-of-three series with No. 2 seed Minnesota (29-3-1, 24-3-1) awaits OSU in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association tournament.
The Buckeyes come into the playoffs having split their final regular-season series against No. 10 North Dakota the weekend prior. Both games were close contests throughout, and the Buckeyes are looking to continue that competitive drive as they look to extend their season against the Golden Gophers.
“We didn’t go out there and let them set the tone and have us try to race to catch up. We gave them a strong game,” senior forward Kendall Curtis said on the series against North Dakota. “We were in their zone from the drop of the puck. I think that’s one of the best things we can take into a game like Minnesota. That’s a great team, so when you can bring the pace to them, I think that’s going to offer us our best start.”
Impeding the Gopher offense
Minnesota’s offense ranks as the second best in the country, averaging nearly five goals per game. Curtis said she has faith that the team will be able to match Minnesota’s agility, but it will need to play aggressively.
“I think our team has quite a bit of speed, and I think we can counter what they offer with that,” Curtis said. “So I think definitely getting pucks deep and really attacking and going after their D and getting in there with our speed will be the best way to slow them down.”
Assistant coach Carson Duggan said she believes the team’s mental strength will be tested and it will have to rely on its composure to slow down the high-powered Gophers.
“I think we need to be patient and disciplined. We can’t take too many risks because they are very good at capitalizing on opportunities,” Duggan said. “So you just have to play very good defensive hockey and be patient and wait for your opportunities and then execute when you get them. We can’t get too excited. Patience and discipline are the big things.”
Two Minnesota forwards, Dani Cameranesi and Hannah Brandt, lead the conference in goals scored this season with 28 and 24, respectively.
“In the D-zone, I think just making sure we’re staying tight to our coverage and make sure they don’t have any space to work,” Curtis said. “If you give any player space in this league, they’re going to make something pretty happen with the puck. Just shutting them down and taking away their space.”
Blueprint for the upset
Minnesota swept OSU in each of the two series this season, as the Buckeyes were outscored 30-5 over the four games. Still, Duggan said OSU is looking forward to another rematch and is going into the series eager for the challenge.
“With the playoffs upon us, everyone has that excitement in them. Realizing that for seniors it could be the end of their career, so there’s always that little bit of nervousness and excitement,” Duggan said. “I think the big piece is that there is a big opportunity to go in and prove a lot of people wrong and show what they’ve done since we played them last.”
The team went into the week of practice with the same approach it had all season.
“I think we try to come in with the same drive and will to get better each and every day at practice,” Curtis said. “I think that’ll help us going into the weekend by not making it into something more than it is. I think just having that same even keel in practice that we’ve had for the whole year is going to help us.”
Minnesota swept its last regular-season series against formerly No. 2-ranked Wisconsin. The Golden Gophers have now replaced the Badgers as the No. 2-ranked team in the country in the latest USCHO.com poll.
The Buckeyes and Golden Gophers are scheduled to square off in Minneapolis at 8:07 p.m. on Friday and 5:07 p.m. on Saturday. A deciding third game would be played on Sunday at 3:07 p.m. if necessary to decide the quarterfinal winner.