Last weekend, as Ohio State prepared to open its season against RPI, transfer forward Charly Dahlquist pulled the gray sweater over her pads and stepped out onto the OSU Ice Rink for her first game as a Buckeye. But Dahlquist isn’t like most transfers; she was a member of the North Dakota program that got shut down last spring as part of the school’s plan to cut its budget.
“I guess it’s like a very unique feeling I would say,” Dahlquist said. “It’s not a feeling of sadness, it’s more of, ‘This is pretty cool.’ That’s how I kind of put it, in the sense of you got to look at the positives.”
The Buckeyes picked up a sweep against the Engineers, with Dahlquist finding a rhythm with linemates Emma Maltais and Tatum Skaggs to the tune of two assists and a plus-5 rating.
It was an impressive start for a player who, like the rest of her former Fighting Hawk teammates, was left to pick up the pieces of her hockey career only six months earlier.Less than a month after falling to Wisconsin in the WCHA Final Face-Off last March, Dahlquist came across a podcast discussing the viable chance of the women’s hockey program being cut due to a huge budget and low revenue. It was the first time she had heard the whispers as at the beginning of the 2016 season, she said the school informed the team they were safe.
The next day, the program was cut.
“That’s the thing, you don’t know for sure,” Dahlquist said. "I just got bad luck I guess.”
With a slew of talent left on the roster, teams began inquiring about players, who had the choice of transferring or staying at North Dakota on scholarship. With the 2017 season underway, former North Dakota players can be seen donning new sweaters at Robert Morris, Minnesota Duluth and Wisconsin, among other programs.
For Dahlquist, her search wasn’t cut and dry.
She had no desire to go out east but wanted a scene completely different from Fargo, North Dakota. As she began looking into schools, she eliminated closer programs like St. Cloud State and Bemidji State because, in her mind, the programs closely resembled North Dakota.
“A big question I asked each coach was what is your program like? How much money do you guys have in your budget? Is your school looking to cut other programs?” Dahlquist said. “Because it is a big factor. When they see a big hockey school like North Dakota get cut, what says other schools like Ohio State or St. Cloud can’t do that? It gives them the right to be like, ‘Well, they did it. Why don’t we do it?’”
Peter Elander was in the same boat as Dahlquist.
BY THE NUMBERS: Breakout stars looming, top teams returning to form
As the associate head coach for the Fighting Hawks for the last seven seasons, Elander was out of a job as well. But for the Swedish coach, his priority was finding a home for his players before he turned his focus to himself.
“We took that month in April and parts of May to help everyone find a home and I think we succeeded with everyone except one,” said Elander, who helped guide North Dakota to its only two NCAA tournament appearances in 2012 and 2013.
When the dust finally settled, Elander had offers both in North America and overseas, where he has an extensive international hockey background, including his nine-year tenure as head coach of the Swedish women’s national team.
One of those offers was from Nadine Muzerall and Ohio State, who lost to Elander and North Dakota in the first round of the WCHA playoffs in 2016. Muzerall, who is in her second season as head coach of the Buckeyes, also had a connection with Elander while she was a member of the coaching staff at her alma mater Minnesota.
WOMEN'S ICE HOCKEY: St. Lawrence seeks to build upon last season's success
“I asked what his plans were for the future and he said they were unknown and we just started to communicate,” Muzerall said.
“You know, knowing and coaching against him, he brings a wealth of hockey knowledge. He’s very experienced; he’s coached at many elite levels like the Olympics and World Juniors with Sweden. He also has a deep connection with a lot of European female hockey players that are very elite. So not only does he bring a lot of hockey knowledge, he also brings a lot of connections.”
But along with connecting with Elander, Muzerall asked about Dahlquist, who had been recruited by Elander and originally considered going to Ohio State. When that door opened up to Dahlquist, it was one she couldn’t walk away from. And the opportunity to go to a familiar school, with a familiar coach, helped ease the transition.
“I looked through my options and nothing really appealed to me before Ohio State came into the picture,” Dahlquist said. “Having Peter there, it’s very similar to North Dakota and that helped make it an easy transition for me. He was the one who first recruited me so he knows how I play; he knows how to talk to me. I think in that way, it’s just like a cushion.”
It also didn’t hurt that the Buckeyes have a large Minnesota population on their roster. One of those Minnesota natives is Lauren Boyle, who grew up with Dahlquist in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where their dads coached them all the way from mites until high school.
“She was a huge help in figuring out the culture and what the team’s like and all that stuff I really didn’t know about the first time coming around trying to pick a school,” Dahlquist said.
Moving in this past summer, Dahlquist has acclimated herself quickly. A speedy, deft player with a distinguished hockey pedigree (her father played in the NHL for 12 years with four different teams), Muzerall has her centering the Buckeyes top line alongside two freshmen in Maltais and Skaggs.
“She’s got a lot of speed and she’s feisty, but you can tell that she’s smart. She’s always eager, very coachable and willing to learn,” Muzerall said.
“She’s a very, very talented and quick player,” Elander said. “Her dad was a shutdown NHL defenseman, and she has all the offensive upside as well.”
This weekend, the Buckeyes are in Dahlquist’s home state for a two-game slate with the No. 4 Golden Gophers. It is an opportunity for Ohio State, who was decimated by injuries last season, to showcase the talent on its roster, which includes Skaggs, the reigning WCHA Offensive Player of the Week, as well as goaltender Kassidy Sauve, who is considered a Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award candidate, presented annually to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey.
As an athlete who’s familiar with playing in big games, Dahlquist is leaning on her experience as a way to help her new team outside of the box score.
“Coming from a team that has gotten to the Final Face-Off, I will try to help out as best as I can,” Dahlquist said. “At the end of the day, a win is a win and that’s what we want and I’m hoping that I can bring that. Honestly, I see this team having lots of success this year.”
Dahlquist’s journey to Ohio State hasn’t been conventional, nor has it been easy. The former North Dakota product is now a Buckeye, but she’s just happy that she gets to continue playing hockey instead of hanging up the skates.
“I’m one of the certain amount of people from our team that were able to play somewhere else,” Dahlquist said. “It’s definitely a cool experience that I can say I played for two different teams, wore two different jerseys.”