By Andrew Vitalis, special to WCHA.com
Charly Dahlquist had enough. The senior, still stinging from the previous night's loss to Bemidji State- on senior weekend no less, knew her team could not afford another setback. She also knew that she wasn't about to lose the final home game of her college career. She had come too far. She had been through too much. So the senior from Eden Prairie, Minn., did something about it. Dahlquist struck twice the following day (Saturday, Feb. 9) including an unassisted goal in the third period that pushed the Buckeyes lead to 4-1 at the time. Freshman Sophie Jaques then sealed the deal with her fifth goal of the season giving Ohio State the 5-1 win and their 18th victory of the campaign. For OSU the victory two weekends ago kept the Buckeyes in the national conversation (ranked No. 10 in the nation heading into this weekend). For Dahlquist goals 11 and 12 on the season put her team and the rest of the WCHA on notice. Where there is a will there is a way. With just a handful of games left in her college hockey career, she's not going to go quietly.
When you think about it, nothing has been quiet when it comes to her hockey journey; that's what has made the veteran forward's career so entertaining to watch. With every bouncing puck that has come her way Dahlquist has kept her composure, taken a deep breath and fired the puck right back where it came from. Never one to back down from a challenge it's no wonder she chose senior day to pick up her first multi-goal (and point) game since December 2018.
"I think throughout this year we have experienced some ups and downs and that can get frustrating, especially being a senior and wanting your final season to go well and you want to go out with a bang," commented Dahlquist. "I think when we didn't get the win we wanted on Friday, being senior night, we wanted to win. I knew someone had to step up."
"It was personal and it was emotional being senior weekend," added Nadine Muzerall, the Buckeyes' women's head hockey coach. "One of our pillars for being successful is being relentless. Charly has that mentality about her. She plays with a chip on her shoulder and she plays physical. She's not that big but she plays big- she carries a big stick if you will. She just wants to win and she will do whatever it takes to find a way to do it."
And she has seen a lot of winning throughout her college career. She has also seen a lot of change.
Dahlquist first laced up her skates in Grand Forks as a freshman skater for the University of North Dakota in 2015-16. At the time her life, both on and off the ice, was falling right into place. That was where she wanted to be. After all, she had built a relationship with the North Dakota coaches since she was a freshman in high school while playing for the Eden Prairie Eagles. Her brother even went to school there. For the first two seasons of her college career Dahlquist starred for the Fighting Hawks. Then in March of 2017 everything came crashing down- or at least that's how it felt. Dahlquist and her fellow teammates learned that the program was being eliminated. All of a sudden, after 67 games in a UND uniform (9G-13A) she was without a team. It was like a rug had been pulled out from underneath her and in a blink of the eye, she found herself contemplating her future as a student and as a hockey player.
"I thought that was my home and that was where I was supposed to be," recalls Dahlquist, when asked to look back on the moment when the announcement was made. "It was definitely something I had never been through before. It was heartbreaking. I felt like I didn't know what to do. My decision was to play hockey or not play hockey and I really didn't know what my decision was going to be at the time."
Even today, the daughter of NHL veteran Chris Dahlquist points out just how close she was to hanging up her skates back then. As it turned out Ohio State called just in time.
Although we always don't see it, usually in life, when one door closes another one opens. In this case, Muzerall did the honors. Fresh off her first season as OSU head coach and looking to build on a 14-win season and a fifth-place finish in the WCHA, the character-minded bench boss needed a forward to fill out her roster so she reached out to Dahlquist and invited her to Columbus. Even though it took some time to let everything sink in, Dahlquist eventually made the decision to trade her green and white for scarlet and gray. The door opened and the hockey fanatic who had been skating ever since she could remember walked through it. She was back in the game.
"That's a shocking situation no matter who it is. No one would have ever thought a program of that caliber would have folded," mentioned Muzerall. "She had a bad hand dealt to her with what happened in North Dakota but she made the best of it. We needed some offense so we got lucky with that. It worked out to our advantage and we got Charly to come here. Not only is it speed, strength and mindset but we also got a good leader and a great person."
"Looking back on it, I was definitely not very open to the move when I first started. It was a hard transition for me; a lot of ups and downs," remembered Dahlquist. It was an emotional roller coaster to say the least but I believe now I was meant to be here. I think everything happens for a reason. This is where I was supposed to be."
It wasn't just a good fit- it was a perfect one. Not only did Dahlquist link up with childhood friend and defenseman Lauren Boyle (who played high school hockey with Dahlquist at Eden Prairie) but she also joined a roster ripe with talented forwards who needed a veteran presence to carry them through the always-changing life of hockey in the WCHA. After all, if there was anyone who knew change and how to handle it – it was Charly Dahlquist. Players like Emma Maltais and Tatum Skaggs – both freshmen phenoms who took the WCHA by storm right out of the gates last season – Dahlquist's first year skating for Ohio State as a junior center. Despite feeling like a freshman at times herself, being one of the new faces in an old locker room; Dahlquist's tenacity and work ethic made her an instant success. Maltais and Skaggs finished one-two in scoring on the team with 40 points and 37 points, respectively. Meanwhile for Dahlquist, she picked up a career-high 23 points – good enough for seventh on the team. More importantly for her and everyone else wearing an OSU uniform, as a team, the Buckeyes won 24 games and advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four before losing to Clarkson in overtime. The Golden Knights eventually won the national championship for the second straight season.
Now a senior, Dahlquist has continued her march towards solidifying her reputation as a producer on the ice and a leader in the locker room. Often times centering Maltais and Skaggs on the Buckeyes first line, the three-some all rank in the top 16 in the WCHA in scoring. Maltais is currently tied for second in the league with 38 points and is among the league leaders in numerous other categories including, but not limited to, assists, power play goals and shorthanded points. As a team, despite having 12 losses, three of those setbacks have been by one goal and six of their 12 losses came against teams ranked in the top 10 nationally including three losses to Minnesota and one to Wisconsin. As a matter of fact, in many of the losses, the Buckeyes have actually outplayed their opponents despite what the score said at the end of the game.
Fresh off a bye week and as the Buckeyes get ready to try and make another postseason run, the well-traveled senior finds herself reflecting on her journey more than ever before. Currently second on the team in scoring with 25 points (12G, 13A), Dahlquist knows that her career is winding down whether she wants to admit it or not. With two games left in the regular season and the playoffs to follow, Dahlquist and her Buckeyes teammates tackle league-leading Wisconsin this week in Madison. At stake for the Badgers is a conference title (the Badgers lead Minnesota by two points going into the final weekend). At stake for OSU is momentum as they try to build on their most recent win and a stretch of games where Ohio State has won three of their last four. As for Dahlquist, among other things, at stake for her is a dwindling amount of games left in her college career and the final few paragraphs documenting an impressive chapter in her life filled with adversity and acceptance; growth and greatness. Don't get the wrong idea though. Dahlquist is still writing and she plans to write a whole lot more.
"I think I have gone through a lot of adversity. It wasn't like I became a leader right away; I definitely had to build that role. I had to start over. I was basically a freshman last year on the team," remarked Dahlquist. "I have learned to be grateful and never take something for granted. Something that you don't think can be taken away from you can be taken away in an instant and I think that has been a big thing for me. For this year I am only guaranteed four more games. I know what it's like for things to just disappear and I don't want my season to end in four games and I have every intention to keep going."
Her head coach couldn't agree more. Bring on the Badgers.
"You want to be on the upswing when you go into the postseason. If you just look at box scores and don't really look deep into the game, of our losses, eight of them could have been so demoralizing with how much we outplayed our opponents and it hasn't been," added Muzerall. "We are the only team in the country who has knocked off Minnesota and Wisconsin so those are huge signature wins. We know we have beaten them before. Do we know its senior night for them and do we know they have the opportunity to clinch the conference? Yes, we know all of that but we are not worried about it; we can't be.
"You need to redirect their focus and put your energy into what matters and that's just winning the game and looking at Friday," continued Muzerall. "Don't look at the weekend just look at Friday so we will take the momentum we picked up against Bemidji and we will take the rest and recovery that we had last weekend and come in with a lot of energy and fire and just play our game- try not to think about all of the noise and the other distractions that are surrounding us. We just want to get after it and do what we know we can do best and that's just wear them down and keep swinging."
There is little doubt- Charly Dahlquist will be swinging the hardest.