College women's hockey: Coaching Buckeyes was unexpected turn for former Bulldog Koizumi
Former Minnesota Duluth women's hockey player Jessica Koizumi described herself as a planner. In her own words, she's "a very big planner," in fact. In August, Koizumi appeared to have the perfect plan in place for her final season of professiona...
Former Minnesota Duluth women's hockey player Jessica Koizumi described herself as a planner. In her own words, she's "a very big planner," in fact.
In August, Koizumi appeared to have the perfect plan in place for her final season of professional hockey with the Connecticut Whale of the National Women's Hockey League. Part of it involved leaving her job as an assistant coach at Yale to start a more flexible career in sports training. It allowed her to focus more time on playing.
Come September, plans changed. Koizumi quit her new job and retired from pro hockey in order to become the associate head coach of the troubled Ohio State women's hockey program - which visits Duluth this weekend - serving under former Minnesota Gophers assistant coach Nadine Muzerall. Both were hired within a week of each other as the program's third coaching staff in three seasons.
For Koizumi, the experience was an unexpected turn after she had trained all summer for one last season of pro hockey following four years as a Bulldog, a IIHF Women's World Championship tournament with Team USA, six years in the Canadian Women's Hockey League and the 2015-16 season with the Whale in the NWHL.
While difficult, it was a move Koizumi said she was ready to make, especially considering the circumstances and potential of the Buckeyes' program.
"I've always wanted to be a college coach and having done that at Yale the past six years has given me experience, and I've been fortunate enough to play at the same time," Koizumi said. "Now to come back to the WCHA is certainly, you could say, a dream come true for me."
Koizumi's Northland roots run deeper than just UMD. She and her family moved to Silver Bay when she was seven, before moving to California when she was 11. Koizumi said she fell in love with hockey while growing up in Silver Bay, and fell in love with Duluth during family trips to the mall and McDonald's.
Koizumi, a former UMD captain, said this weekend's series between the Buckeyes and Bulldogs at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 4:07 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena will be bittersweet. While Amsoil Arena is a beautiful rink, Koizumi still has a soft spot for the DECC, her home as a Bulldog between 2003-07 when she amassed 84 goals and 71 assists in 132 games.
On the bright side, at least she and her Buckeyes won't be in the pink visitor's locker room this weekend.
"Duluth has always been a home away from home, and then getting to play my four years there, I couldn't have asked for a better college hockey experience," Koizumi said. "That's what I try to preach to our girls. 'These four years are going to fly by, but it's going to be the best four years of your life.' It certainly was for me."
Muzerall - the first women's hockey player inducted into the Gophers' Athletics Hall of Fame having won two national championships as a player and four NCAA titles in five years as an assistant coach - said one of the reasons she sought out Koizumi to help her rebuild Ohio State was because of Koizumi's background with the Bulldogs.
Koizumi didn't just play at UMD from 2003-07, she later served as a graduate assistant under someone Muzerall holds in high regard - former Bulldogs coach and five-time national champion Shannon Miller.
"Shannon Miller has done a lot of great things. I don't know her personally, but her record speaks for itself and at the end of the day, she was a good coach," Muzerall said. "(Koizumi) was taught by one of the best, a pioneer.
"I just want to credit Jess for taking the leap of faith and coming to the Ohio State. This program is set up for success. We hear of our football program because of the media, but we have a lot of national championship programs here. They just want to win. They have the alumni support and resources to do so. I really respect Jess for seeing that vision."
Recruiting has been a challenge early on for the new Buckeyes coaching staff. They are well behind the rest of the 36 NCAA Division I women's hockey programs, some of which have moved beyond recruiting the high school senior classes of 2017 and 2018 and are now already recruiting the classes of 2019 and 2020.
Second-year Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell already has three verbal commitments lined up from the Class of 2019.
In addition to catching up with recruiting, Koizumi and Muzerall must also deal with the recent history of the Buckeyes' program that includes a pair of coaches ousted due to scandals - one for sexual harassment allegations and another for suspected recruiting violations - all in the last two years.
The Buckeyes also haven't been experiencing much success, going from 19 wins and a tie for fourth with UMD in the WCHA in 2012-13 to just 10 wins and a seventh-place finish a year ago.
"I asked a lot of them in one-on-one meetings when the season started, 'How come you stuck it out? Why are you still here?'" said Koizumi, whose Buckeyes enter the weekend tied for fifth in the WCHA and have 11 overall wins. "A lot of players like a Jincy Dunne (freshman defenseman) or Kassidy Sauve (sophomore goalie), they could've very well transferred - some of our top players - to another school. They said they just loved Ohio State."