The puck drops on the Women’s NCAA Hockey Tournament Saturday afternoon with Boston College taking on Ohio State at 1pm. The Eagles have never faced the Buckeyes in the history of the program, and they’ll be doing so with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line.
We reached out to Matt Souva of BuckeyeStateHockey.com and Alison Lukan of The Athletic to learn a little bit about the Buckeyes as we look ahead to tomorrow’s matchup!
BC Interruption: This is the first time these two teams have ever faced each other, and with so few east vs. west match-ups, even those of us who follow women’s hockey closely don’t know too much about Ohio State. What’s their style of play? Do they like to clog things up? Do they like to get into a track meet? Or it is something in between?
Matt & Alison: Even though it’s hard to compare East vs West (especially with so few common opponents) Ohio State and Boston College seem like similar teams on paper. Both feature prominently in scoring and shot generation. BC is the better producer and averages 4.19 goals per game (best among D1 teams), OSU 2.97 (9th among D1 teams). Shots are a similar story, albeit a bit closer; BC is 5th among D1 teams (33.05 shots per game) and OSU is 8th (32.22). Both clubs also have prominent freshman scoring. For OSU, their 2nd and 3rd leading scorers are both freshmen (Emma Maltais and Tatum Skaggs).
And one step further, both teams rely on great goalies to bail them out. Kassidy Sauve from Ohio State has been injured recently, but has a stellar .934 SV% and may be the great equalizer if she plays. If the skaters have their say, this game should be high-scoring and feature lots of shots. If the great goalies turn in solid games, maybe those shots won’t amount to all that many goals. We’ll have to see which is the case.
It’s worth noting that circumstances do complicate the direct comparisons a bit. Is OSU doing so well because the Olympics have tapped some Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Wisconsin opponents, or are the Buckeyes really taking a step forward? This isn’t an obvious victory for the higher-ranked team. (Stats via: http://www.wcha.com/stats/filtersw18.php)
BCI: The big question coming into the game has to do with goaltender Kassidy Sauvé’s availability. She hasn’t played in a couple weeks but it looks like she was at least on the bench in full pads for the game against Minnesota. What’s the deal with that?
M&A: As mentioned above, Sauvé has been battling an injury. In interviews this week, Coach Muzerall wouldn’t comment on her goaltending situation but Sauvé did say to the press that she is hopeful she can play this weekend.
BCI: Ohio State’s home/road splits are really something... 16-2-2 at home, 7-7-2 on the road. What’s the reason for such a big disparity? And which is the real Ohio State?
M&A: I don’t know what to make of Ohio State’s road game troubles this year. Trying to explain away some problems makes sense. What if we throw away the two loses to the mighty Wisconsin? Now the road record is 7-5-2, so that’s not quite as bad. But then we’re stuck cherry-picking. Why not also discount the wins at Minnesota? And how do we explain the loses to a bad Minnesota State?
If it’s a question of depth and unfavorable match-ups, then BC presents a really interesting test case. While the Eagles are very top-heavy in scoring, that top talent is unrivaled in the NCAA. If the Boston College top line can avoid the best OSU defenders with last change (Jincy Dunne, Lauren Boyle, Dani Sadek), how can Ohio State respond? The coaching aspect of this game, the Buckeyes’ plan for BC, might be the difference between more road mediocrity and a signature program win.
BCI: The Buckeyes took a weekend sweep against both Minnesota and Wisconsin in the last couple months. What did Ohio State do well in those games — and how can BC best counter that to avoid meeting the same fate?
M&A: There’s certainly an element of surprise that the Buckeyes have been able to capitalize on with opponents this year, and there’s also the fire that an “underdog” mentality can give to a team. To point to a pretty common theme, goaltending was outstanding in those games and the rookie talent of Maltais and Skaggs was certainly on display. The Buckeyes also didn’t allow themselves to get unnerved by physical play and they were quick to capitalize on any opponent’s mistake. I like this quote from Muzerall after the sweep:
“The way we play is very aggressive, the [more] time and space you take away from a player… that annoys them. And so you do try to pressure.”
BCI: What are Ohio State’s biggest strengths, and what weaknesses have teams been most able to exploit?
Ohio State’s biggest strengths are probably solid top line scoring, a positive shot differential (more shots generated than surrendered), and a great goalie (pending Sauvé’s availability). OSU’s weakness is a lack of depth, and a so-so powerplay.
Another thing to note, Ohio State hasn’t faced many elite scorers like BC’s top line yet this year, because the best forward is literally on their own team: Emma Maltais is the top point per game player among all WCHA players (considering all games, not just WCHA contests). Perhaps that can give OSU some insight into dealing with Watts: consider the games where Maltais was held scoreless, and emulate how the opposition dealt with a unique threat player. Granted, that’s easier said than done (after all, Maltais is point per game, Watts is an astounding two-points-per-game). OSU did play Brittany Howard (Robert Morris, 1.58 points per game) so maybe that’s one more place they can look — to their own performance against a very talented forward.
BCI: Give us your game prediction — not just a final score, but how do you see the game playing out?
M&A: I’m going to say Buckeyes 3-2, especially if Sauvé suits up. I think her skill in net is tremendous. It will be a game full of firepower and chances, but Ohio State is particularly motivated after losing in the semifinals of the WCHA tourney — the message was “remember this feeling, don’t let anyone else be in control of your destiny again — control it yourself.”
Thanks to Matt and Alison for taking the time to give some insight on the Buckeyes as we look ahead to tomorrow’s game! You can follow Matt at @Zekebud and Alison at @AlisonL on Twitter. Boston College and Ohio State will play at 1pm Saturday afternoon on ESPN3, with the winner advancing to the Frozen Four in Minneapolis!