Before she became the WCHA Coach of the Year at Ohio State, she was “Muzzy,” the brash-talking, goal-scoring machine for the Gophers’ first national championship team.
Nadine Muzerall is the Gophers’ all-time leading scorer who went on to win four NCAA titles as a Minnesota assistant, under Brad Frost. In 2016, Ohio State hired her to lift its program from a swamp.
The Buckeyes had fired coach Nate Handrahan in 2015 for allegedly making sexually explicit comments to players. Ohio State replaced him with Jenny Potter, only to fire her in August 2016 for multiple NCAA violations.
In stepped Muzerall, who has the Buckeyes ranked No. 5 nationally heading into Saturday’s WCHA semifinal against the No. 7 Gophers at Ridder Arena.
“This would have been unheard of,” Gophers junior Sophie Skarzynski said, when asked if she could have imagined this much Ohio State success two years ago.
In 2016, while Minnesota marched to its fourth NCAA title in five seasons, Ohio State finished 10-25-1 under Potter. The Gophers won one of those games against the Buckeyes 9-0.
Now, Ohio State is all but assured to earn the first NCAA tournament bid in program history. Muzerall’s Buckeyes are 3-0-1 against the Gophers, who risk missing the eight-team NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 seasons with another loss.
“Our players are excited,” Muzerall said. “Especially these seniors that have gone through so much adversity, more than any other athlete probably in women’s hockey with the shuffling of the coaches. That will shake you up. But that adversity makes us better.”
The Buckeyes (23-9-4) have roared back from third-period deficits in two of four games against Minnesota (22-10-3) this season.
“They’re fast, they’re relentless to the puck, just like Muzzy’s personality, very aggressive,” Frost said.
A Mississauga, Ontario native, Muzerall played four years for the Gophers, starting with their inaugural 1997-98 season, and finished with 139 career goals, a program record that held up through the storied careers of Hannah Brandt (115), Amanda Kessel (108), Krissy Wendell (106) and Natalie Darwitz (102).
“[Muzerall] wasn’t the best skater, but she was really good around the net,” former Gophers coach Laura Halldorson said. “She has this confidence about her. I really liked her personality.”
But Coach Muzerall? Halldorson admits she didn’t see that career choice coming.
“Let’s put it this way: I had a lot of meetings with her when she was a player,” Halldorson said, chuckling. “She’s a character. So I might have been a little surprised at first, but it made sense. She can really relate to the players.”
After playing in Switzerland and coaching at a Massachusetts prep school for seven years, Muzerall returned to the Gophers in 2011 as an assistant.
By the time Ohio State called five years later, Muzerall already had served as an assistant for Canada’s National Development Team.
“I’ve said multiple times that Ohio State was a sleeping giant in our league,” Frost said. “If somebody can get in there and recruit well and treat those kids well, it’s Ohio State. So they’ve got a lot of resources and they’re right next to Canada.”
The Buckeyes hired Muzerall just 17 days before the start of last season. She and her husband, Ryan, have two preschool-aged children, and a work visa issue kept her from joining the team until hours before the first game.
“I’ve never physically drank out of a fire hydrant, but I think it would be close to the same thing,” said Muzerall, who went 14-18-5 that first season.
Muzerall inherited goaltender Kassidy Sauve, now a junior who blossomed into a second-team All-American last season. The Buckeyes added two top recruits — Emma Maltais and Tatum Skaggs — along with Eden Prairie native Charly Dahlquist, who transferred after North Dakota’s program folded.
“That’s pretty amazing to see, as far as what’s going on over there,” said Skarzynski, who has close friends on Ohio State’s team. “I think [Muzerall’s] just leading by example. She might have those girls on a tight string, but it’s working.”
Ohio State opened February by sweeping No. 1 Wisconsin before stumbling a bit in splits with Minnesota State Mankato and Bemidji State. Muzerall hopes for more consistency from her young team Saturday.
“The clock is reset, so it doesn’t matter anymore what has happened in the past,” Muzerall said. “And don’t think that Minnesota doesn’t have an advantage, playing at home. I think it’ll be a very exciting game, and who knows what’s to come? But we’re ready for them.”