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Bucks Blueliner Sophie Jacques Shines Bright

Sophie Jaques’ season for the ages with the Ohio State Buckeyes reminded her coach of some other all-time legendary defensive producers.

Before she’s ready to talk about the otherworldly performance of defender Sophie Jaques, Ohio State Buckeyes coach Nadine Muzerall feels the need to provide some critical context.

In her second season behind a collegiate bench, as an assistant at her alma mater in Minnesota, Muzerall witnessed possibly the greatest team in NCAA history, the 2012-13 Golden Gophers. Minnesota was a juggernaut and featured six future Olympians, running roughshod through the NCAA en route to a perfect 41-0-0 record and a national championship. And on a team featuring superstar forwards Amanda Kessel and Hannah Brandt, the blueline was anchored by Megan Bozek. Her 57 points that season tied Gigi Marvin’s school blueline record and marked the third-highest scoring season by a defender in NCAA history.

“That year, Megan Bozek was a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier, but she was also (44) points behind Kessel,” said Muzerall in late February. “This year, Sophie Jaques is only seven points behind, and in three fewer games, the top scorer in the whole country, and that’s a forward and that’s their responsibility. When you’re recruiting a forward, that’s what they’re supposed to do, score goals. When we recruited Sophie, it was to have a strong plus-minus, to stop pucks from going in the net and defend well. It was not to have this offensive presence.”

In fairness, even if the Buckeyes had recruited Jaques intending to have her drive the attack from the back end, no one could have expected this. As the calendar flipped to March, Jaques’ 54 points were the seventh-highest in a single season by a defender, trailing only campaigns by Marvin, Bozek and Hockey Hall of Famer Angela Ruggiero. By the time you’re reading these words, there’s a chance Jaques will have cobbled together the points necessary to top all but Ruggiero’s potentially unsurpassable 83-point season on the all-time list.

And as unexpected as this all has been for Jaques, who herself can’t understand how she’s managed to find the scoresheet so often, it’s all the more surprising given the Ohio State senior was pretty much an offensive afterthought last season.

On the heels of two 20-plus point seasons, Jaques mustered just four points in 20 games during the pandemic-shortened campaign. In its own way, though, a season struggling to score may have been precisely what laid the groundwork for this year. “Once I realized that I wasn’t producing as much,” she said, “I focused on building my defensive game. Last year really helped me grow as a defensive defenseman, and I became a lot stronger in the defensive zone.”

When all was said and done, Jaques finished with 21 goals and 59 points in 37 games en route to a national NCAA title.

As any coach will surely tell you, defense begets offense. That goes for Muzerall, too, who was quick to point out that the way in which Jaques has been able to strip pucks from the opposition and turn the play up ice has been an integral part of her offensive outburst. In addition, Muzerall was also sure to commend the way the defender sees the ice. Though Jaques’ arm needs some twisting for her to heap some praise on her own game, even she could admit that has been one of her strengths this season.

“As much as I don’t notice it, I think what’s helped me grow this year is that my vision has developed, and I’ve been able to move the pucks quicker, which has led to more offense for our team,” Jaques said. “That’s what has generated a lot of my points this year, in addition to being on our power play. We’ve had one of the best power plays our team has ever had. Just playing on that, that’s another area of the game that I’ve been able to produce a lot in.”

To be sure, the opportunity to be a special-teams linchpin is something Jaques has earned, just as she’s earned the confidence of the coaching staff no matter the situation. Muzerall called Jaques “as even keel as they come,” adding she consistently makes the right play whether the Buckeyes happen to find themselves at even strength or on the kill, up one or down a couple. However, to Jaques’ thinking, it’s the faith Muzerall and Co. have in her that makes it all possible. “Their trust is great because it allows me to be creative on the ice and try different things,” she said. “While we do have systems, a lot of hockey is just reading the play and making the best play in every situation. Having that trust has given me the confidence to make what I think is the smart play in different situations.”

Given the way things have gone this campaign, it’s fair to say Jaques has made all the right moves this season. And while there’s probably – almost definitely – some measure of bias at work, Muzerall doesn’t disagree. “She’s getting a lot of offensive points, and she’s shutting teams down defensively,” she said, “making her arguably the most elite player on the ice in college hockey right now.” 



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