Sometimes you have players on your roster who wear several different hats. Rarely do you have one who wears them all.
Consider that when Jincy Dunne was a redshirt freshman she was named an alternate captain for the Ohio State women's hockey team. As a freshman.
The Dunne name was a familiar one to Buckeye hockey fans. Jincy's sister and former teammate, Jessica, was a regular on the Buckeye blueline from 2014-2017. During that time, Jessica Dunne played in 65 career games which was more than enough time for Jincy to see what Ohio State was about.
During that same time period Jincy Dunne was getting her first experience at the national team level as a member of the U.S Women's National Team at the 2012 Four Nations Cup and the 2014 and 2015 IIHF Women's U18 Women's World Championships where she won silver and gold, respectively. The Buckeye coaching staff was watching her too. Eventually the inevitable became official and Dunne was off to Ohio State to play with her sister and continue her hockey career; playing in the best conference in the nation.
"I actually had no idea where I wanted to go so, I kept my options open. (Jessica) just loved it there; she just fell in love with it right away," recalled Dunne. "My sister and I have grown up together, we are 14 months apart so we basically treat each other like twins and she is my best friend. I thought, 'okay I will go take a visit' and I just fell in love with the school. My grandfather lives 20 minutes away and we have gotten so much closer over these last couple years and I think that was also a big factor in it."
The on-ice reunion with Jessica didn't happen right away. Prior to her freshman season kicking off Dunne suffered a concussion that took her out of the line-up for several months. Because of that the O'Fallon, Mo., product chose to redshirt keeping her four years of eligibility intact. Still, despite being limited on the ice, Dunne's presence made an immediate impact on the team thanks to natural leadership qualities that most desire, but few can master. In short, Dunne was an all-star before she even scored her first goal or skated her first official shift. Given the instability of the program at the time, her arrival was timely - and needed.
Several hundred miles away Nadine Muzerall was watching. The hockey veteran tried to recruit Dunne to the Minnesota during her time on the Gopher coaching staff and was well aware of Dunne's program-changing potential. When Muzerall was named the fourth head coach in OSU history in 2016, she immediately glanced at the roster and started to develop a plan. Tasked with the daunting task of making the Buckeyes a winner on and off the ice once again; Muzerall needed help. She needed stability.
The plan? Let Jincy Dunne be Jincy Dunne and the rest will fall into place.
To put things into perspective, after Dunne was finally cleared to play, when she stepped onto the ice for her first college game on Sept. 30, 2016 - one of eight freshmen on the roster - she wore the alternate captain's "A" on her sweater. The selection spoke to the impact Dunne had made on the program before she played in her first game.
Adding to her dominance was the fact that she was equally as powerful on the ice as she was away from it. Dunne's impact was felt right away, scoring a goal in her first collegiate game and adding an assist in the following night. Still, while scoring was nice, Muzerall needed the consistency Dunne provided from the start. The Buckeyes played 37 games that season and the redshirt sophomore played in every single one of them. Dunne was one of three defensemen on the roster to do so.
For her efforts Dunne was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team and All-WCHA Third Team after scoring 14 points and leading all NCAA freshmen in blocked shots with 75. Her first-season performance was special. Her leadership qualities took things to another level.
"Jincy has an old soul about her. She is one of the six children, she's one of the oldest in the family so she's used to nurturing and caring for others and putting others first. That's something you develop when you are in a big household like hers growing up," explained Muzerall. "If you know Jincy now it's actually not real surprising that she immediately became a captain for us. It is a little unorthodox but again she's an old soul and she was a year ahead with that redshirt year. She never acted like a freshman and she certainly didn't play like one."
"It was definitely a new experience. There was a lot of pressure but I think depending on how you look at it, pressure can be a privilege and I am grateful for it. I learned a lot and I also made a lot of mistakes," laughed Dunne. "It was an honor to be named alternate captain. Looking back, it was hard being a freshman and being in that position; there was a lot on my plate just trying to feel like myself again because I hadn't played in over a year. It was definitely a learning experience but I am grateful for it at the end of the day."
The following season, Dunne took her game to another level and the Buckeyes followed suit. She dished out a team-leading 24 assists and did not miss a game. As a team, Ohio State won 24 games and skated to the NCAA Frozen Four. After the season everyone who is anyone began to recognize Jincy Dunne as one of the top blueliners in college hockey, and rightfully so. In addition to being selected All-WCHA First Team, Dunne was named to the AHCA All-American Second Team. Sure, there were players out there with more points or defensemen with more power behind their stick but finding one with more stability to their game? One more dependable and with more maturity to their game AND the ability to chip in a point or two when needed? Not likely.
Now a senior she continues to skate her way into the OSU record book and into the hearts of Buckeye fans and college hockey purists in Columbus and beyond. Dunne is currently fourth on the roster in scoring and eclipsed the 90-career point mark with two assists at Wisconsin on Feb. 15. More importantly to her though, she reached 140 career games played mark. Numbers like games played, blocked shots, plus/minus … those are the categories she takes pride in. Honors like being a four-year captain, four-time OSU Scholar-Athlete three-time WCHA All-Academic Team honoree - that's what excites her. When the final buzzer sounds on her Ohio State career, she will remember those numbers more than any other.
"I can't tell you how many points I had last season, but I could probably point out five or six great memories I had with my teammates," stated Dunne. "The stats and the awards, they are great to have beside your name as an accomplishment but the relationships I have with my teammates are so much more important and those things are going to last forever. I love my teammates and I think they know I would do anything for them so I don't look at leadership as directing but more of what can I do for you and how can I make you better. I think that's my biggest joy in life just being able to give back to those girls so they can have an awesome experience. One of the things we talk about with leadership here at Ohio State is building trust and connection and I think in general, that is something I want to do with my teammates. I want to be there and serve them and love them and let them know I'm going to be there for them no matter what."
"It's too bad that the people who are voting for the awards don't see that," remarked Muzerall. "They always look for points, goals and assists right? Often times those are people who haven't really played the game and they don't understand the value of things that are bigger than that such as the blocked shots and all those things people don't see that are behind the scenes. Jincy couldn't care less about individual awards; it's more about us as a team winning a national championship. People down the road don't always remember who was the leading point scorer or goal getter or who was the best defenseman but they do remember who won the national title every time and that's her mindset."
With just two games left in the regular season, Dunne finds herself trying not to think about next week or the week after, but rather, breaks things down in seconds and minutes hoping to take it all in. She will miss the games and competition but her teammates - that's where the rarely shaken leader has to pause and compose herself from time to time.
The same can said for Muzerall when asked how to replace one of the best players she has coached. It's an inevitable reality that she and others will one day be faced with. The thought of Dunne moving on and no longer being her team's captain is something the OSU head coach doesn't want to think about; at least not yet.
"I don't know if you can replace someone like that. You might find someone that might one day be as good as an athlete but it's more than that. It's about can you lead the team and be that leader on the ice," explained Muzerall. "You would be surprised, it's such a difficult characteristic of being able to lead 25 young women and have them believe in you every single day. Jincy just leads by example. She does all the little things so that's going to be the hardest part when it comes to replacing her."
When asked how she would sum up her career at Ohio State, Dunne boiled it down to three words.
"Grateful, resilient and love"
Spoken like a true leader.