MINNEAPOLIS -- A dream came true for Liz Schepers when she accepted a hockey scholarship to Ohio State. And at the same time, the Mound, Minn., native who had watched Hockey Day Minnesota on TV for a decade figured that another dream had died.
“It’s something you dream of playing in high school, then you go to college out of state and you figure you missed your chance because they never put non-Minnesota teams in it,” Schepers said before a recent Buckeyes practice.
Home in Minnesota last summer, Schepers got a call from Buckeyes coach Nadine Muzzerall that had her grinning ear-to-ear. Ohio State would be facing the Minnesota Gophers on Hockey Day Minnesota in Minneapolis.
“I get the call from Muzz and it’s like, ‘wow, we’re going to do this,’” Schepers recalled. “For the Minnesotans on the team, it’s a huge pride thing.”
The Buckeyes, currently ranked No. 5 in the nation, come to Minnesota for a two-game series. They will face the top-ranked Gophers indoors at Ridder Arena on Friday night, Jan. 17, then outdoors in the shadow of the Minneapolis skyline on Saturday afternoon. They are not looking at the outdoor game as any kind of novelty or exhibition. Having played in the Frozen Four in Minneapolis two seasons ago and having handed the Gophers (19-1-3) their only loss of the season so far, Ohio State has serious designs on making the women’s WCHA more than just the “Gophers-Badgers Show” that many envision.
“Our freshman year we got a taste of that, finishing second in the WCHA, which was a first for this program and something we were really proud of,” said Schepers, who leads the Buckeyes with 17 goals. “We don’t see any reason why we can’t be in that dogfight every single year. They obviously have the history of being those top two teams, but we’re not just going to sit back and let them run the race.”
Muzzerall is among three former Gophers on the Ohio State coaching staff, so there is a special familiarity and excitement about being involved in Hockey Day Minnesota, their battle for WCHA points notwithstanding.
“It’s going to be a huge series versus a top five team in the country and there are WCHA implications but also national implications as well. It’s something that our team will enjoy, but we’ve also got to get to work,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “Three former Gophers all on the bench together is fun and it’s more than just Liz Schepers there. They’ve got a few more Minnesota kids as well so I know they’ll be excited to come back.”
One of those Minnesota kids who may or may not see action this weekend is freshman goalie Quinn Kuntz, who had 16 shutouts for Warroad last season. Sidelined with a health complication for the first half of the season, Kuntz made her collegiate debut last weekend in the third period of a 8-4 win over Minnesota State Mankato that improved the Buckeyes to 13-5-4.
“It’s more physical, it’s faster, it’s more fun to be honest,” Kuntz said about the transition to college hockey. “Our team is so close and the culture on our team is unlike any other. We always talk about how much heart we have, which is why we can compete in those games.”
Although since central Ohio is a long way from northern Minnesota, Kuntz admitted there’s one thing she longs for in her new life as a Buckeye.
“I miss snow,” she said, with a smile. “There’s not really any snow here, which is odd in the winter.”
As fortune would have it, with up to 12 inches of the white stuff in the forecast for Minneapolis this weekend, Kuntz and the Buckeyes will get a snowy welcome back to the State of Hockey.