Ohio State women’s ice hockey head coach Nadine Muzerall is a winner. Muzerall, who won two national championships as a player and four as a coach with the University of Minnesota, has instilled a winning culture at Ohio State. She has a proven track record of success in her seven years at OSU. With Muzerall at the helm, Ohio State women’s hockey team has made the Frozen Four the last three years, won the National Championship in 2021-22 and appeared in the finals again this past March.
Coach Muzerall Wants to Win Every Year
A key ingredient in OSU’s ability to compete these last few years for a National Championship has been to add high-end, experienced talent from other schools via the transfer portal. In 2021-22, OSU had 8 upperclass players transfer from other schools n their roster (including 3 from Robert Morris University which had just folded). In 2022-23 there were 5 players who came to OSU via the transfer portal including Makenna Webster (from Wisconsin who finished 4th in scoring on the team), Lauren Bernard (D from Clarkson who played in all 41 games) and Kenzie Hauswirth (from Quinnipiac who finished 8th in team scoring). So these players were significant contributors to the team’s success this past season.
Want to Win Before Your Career Ends? Transfer to OSU
With as many as 8-10 players leaving the program this spring, Coach Muzerall’s strategy is not to rebuild, but to reload. Over the past few weeks, Coach Muzerall has reloaded with more experienced high-end talent via the transfer portal by adding Olympian defender Cayla Barnes from BC , Patty Kaz Top-10 Finalist Kiara Zanon from Penn State, BC’s leading scorer Hannah Bilka, Kelsey King from Minnesota State and D Stephanie Markowski from Clarkson. Needless to say, a very talented group of transfers.
While there may be multiple reasons for these transfers to move on from their previous schools (e.g. graduated, no longer a fit etc.), the appeal of winning a national championship is pretty clear. For these new players, they know there is a very high probability they will be competing at the Frozen Four next March – while they may not have had the same opportunity if they stayed with their previous program. Why not go for it?
The Impact on Underclass Players
At the same time, there were at least 5 OSU players who entered the transfer portal this spring, all with multiple years of eligibility left. Most notably, Sydney Morrow, a first-year D who tied for team scoring with USA Hockey at the U18 Women’s IIHF tournament in scoring last summer, transferred to Colgate. From what I could tell watching the Frozen Four, while dressed for the last two games, Morrow saw little-to-no ice time as the 7th D.
Implications for Incoming Recruiting Classes
With the increased number of transfers, potential recruits must recognize that freshmen may find themselves in a more competitive environment at schools like OSU and may struggle to find playing time early on. Furthermore, coaching staff may give priority to more experienced players over freshmen, and this may impact player development. As a result, incoming freshmen may have to consider the challenge in earning their spot on the team and how hard it would be to make a meaningful contribution to the program in all four years of eligibility. While the transfer portal provides more opportunities for players to explore their options and find the best fit for their needs, it also creates a more challenging environment for incoming freshmen to establish themselves in the team.
Creates an Environment Between the “Have” and the “Have-Nots” Hockey Programs
The women’s hockey transfer portal has essentially created a two-tier system between the top talented schools and everyone else. The portal has provided top-tier programs with the ability to attract and acquire the best players in the country, leaving other schools having to figure out to replace the top talent they lose to these programs. The top schools have the resources and coaching staff to offer a highly competitive environment and the opportunity to compete for national championships, which makes them attractive destinations for talented transfers. On the other hand, smaller or less successful programs may struggle to keep up, which creates a divide in the quality of play between the top programs and everyone else. While the transfer portal has created new opportunities for high-end players to explore and find the best fit for their needs, it is creating an uneven playing field in women’s college hockey.
It will be interesting to see if other Top 10 schools begin to copy the Ohio State strategy of picking off several top players via the transfer portal in order to better compete with the top recruiting schools like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northeastern and Minnesota-Duluth who have not yet adopted this strategy (even though all schools have the occasional top talent transfer).
What Happens When No More 5th Year (Covid) Eligibility?
It will be interesting to see how things go with the 2025 recruiting class for Ohio State. The last class of Covid year grad students is 2024, so the pool of 5th year transfers will be much smaller and potential players would likely need to be move prior to graduating from their current schools. Will the top players from the incoming class of 2025 be concerned about transfer portal players at OSU and thus look elsewhere? We will find out this fall.
Implications For Potential Recruits and Which Schools to Consider
As a high school player trying to figure out which program is right for you, it would be important to be realistic about your own talents and where you might fit in the line-up over all four of your years. Even if you are a national U-18 team member, you might still struggle to get ice time at a top tier program that brings in experienced top talent with 1 or 2 years of eligibility left.
During the recruiting process, understanding the coaching staff’s player development process over 4 years and ice time philosophy is an important conversation to have before a decision is made.