NCAA Women’s hockey is a ton of fun to follow and produces some high quality hockey, but not everyone has the benefit of having gone to a Division 1 school or followed the sport since 2004. But I’m here for you! From the CHA to the WCHA, here we go:
College Hockey America (CHA)
Last season saw a return to what we’re used to as Mercyhurst won the conference and tournament championship only to get blown out by Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The CHA has been dominated by Mercyhurst and I mean DOMINATED. In the CHA’s 14 seasons of existence the Lakers have; won 13 regular season titles, been crowned champions 11 times, and only missed the finals once.
Syracuse and Robert Morris seem close, but it’s still Mercyhurst’s conference to lose.
Home: Lindenwood Ice Arena (Cap. 1,000) – St. Charles, Mo.
Last Season: 9-24-4 (5-11-4); 5th CHA
Production lost to Seniority: 25-18-43 (25%), 32 goalie games played
2016-2017 Outlook: This is going to be an interesting team to watch. Leading scorer Shara Jasper (23-13-36) graduated as did top netminder and USWNT call-up Nicole Hensley (.922 sv) but this is not a team that got gutted in the offseason. Their only other seniors, Rachel Weich and Brooke Peden, finished 11th and 17th on the team in scoring respectively.
The second through fifth scorers were all freshmen or sophomores last season, as is goaltender Jolene De Bruyn. De Bruyn played well in limited time last season posting a .930 save percentage in six games. The Lionesses aren’t going to compete for a title but they should be in the mix in the middle of the CHA.
Biggest Question: Who scores the goals? Jasper led the team with 23 last season. Second place? Eight.
Home: Merchyhurst Ice Center (Cap. 1,500) – Erie, Pa.
Last Season: 19-10-5 (14-3-3); 1st CHA
Production lost to Seniority: 39-62-101 (42%)
2016-2017 Outlook: Similar to Lindenwood, Mercyhurst mixes some big losses with some promising young players. Number two and three scorers Jenna Dingeldein and Emily Janiga are gone, the latter going to play for the NWSL’s Buffalo Beauts. However leading scorer Rachel Smith (11-18-29) was a freshman, as was starting netminder Sarah McDonnell (.923 sv).
Key defenders J’nail Mahadeo and Lauren Kilroy are gone as well. Mercyhurst iced a lot of freshmen last season so it will be interesting to see who is ready to take the next step.
Just when Mercyhurst looks like they’re on the decline they seem to rebound with a year where they don’t just dominate the CHA, but are a legit title contender.
Biggest Question: Will the strides of young players outshine senior losses?
Penn State Nittany Lions
Home: Pegula Ice Arena (Cap. 5,782) – University Park, Pa.
Last Season: 12-19-6 (6-8-6); 3rd CHA
Production lost to Seniority: 28-25-53 (32%), 22 goalie games played
2016-2017 Outlook: The Nittany Lions seemed like they were trending upward, posting an above .500 season at 17-16-4 last year. Improved Syracuse and Robert Morris squads sent Penn State sliding back, though they still finished third in the conference.
Penn State graduated a very talented goaltender in Celine Whitlinger (.947 sv) and their third and fourth leading scorers Hannah Bramm and Shannon Yoxheimer. It’s not all doom though, they return their top five scoring defenders including Bella Sutton, the only blueliner to tally double digit points.
Biggest Question: Will this team continue to grow or are they stuck in CHA mediocrity?
Robert Morris Colonials
Home: 84 Lumber Arena (Cap. 1,200 – Moon, Pa.
Last Season: 17-16-5 (7-9-4); 4th CHA
Production lost to Seniority: 15-11-26 (9%)
2016-2017 Outlook: This was a team I thought was good enough to push Mercyhurst and Syracuse for the conference title. Unfortunately they couldn’t manage much success against the top teams going 0-3-1 against Mercyhurst, 1-3-0 against Syracuse and even 0-2-2 against Penn State.
That can perhaps be chalked up to youth and inexperience. The Colonials only iced three seniors last season. The top four scorers are all back, as are all the netminders. Jessica Dodds and Lauren Bailey posted nearly identical .922 and .921 respective save percentages. They probably need to be just a bit better to elevate Robert Morris.
Kristen Welsh led the defense with a 7-18-25 line and was third among all skaters as a freshman. She may grow into a dominant force within the conference.
Biggest Question: This team is good enough on paper to challenge for a title, can they be good enough on the ice?
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Tigers
Home: Gene Polisseni Center (Cap. 4,300) – Rochester, N.Y.
Last Season: 8-27-1 (4-15-1); 6th CHA
Production Lost to Seniority: 18-24-42 (35%), 16 goalie games played
2016-2017 Outlook: This was a better offseason than the last, which saw some of the best players in program history depart but it was still a rough one for the Tigers. The top two scorers, Jess Paton and Carly Payerl, both graduated, as did starting netminder Jetta Rackleff. Backup keepers Jenna de Jonge and Brooke Stoddart posted .891 and .893 save percentages – they need to step up their games.
However, the Tigers only lost one other senior, defender Haley Northcote. If a few players made strides in their games, this is a team that could turn some heads. Keep an eye on forward/defender Reagan Rust. She was third on the team with 18 points last season.
Biggest Question: Will a go-to player emerge? Only three players return with double digit points from last season.
Home: Tennity Ice Skating Pavilion (Cap. 350) – Syracuse, N.Y.
Last Season: 19-14-3 (14-4-2); 2nd CHA
Production lost to Seniority: 28-57-85 (29%), 32 goalie games played
2016-2017 Outlook: Last year was supposed to be it for the Orange, but once again Mercyhurst skated away with all the trophies. Syracuse has now lost five CHA Championship games, four of them to Mercyhurst, and been eliminated from the conference tournament by the Lakers six of the last seven seasons.
It’s not quite fair to say the lone goal is beating Mercyhurst, beating some of the other teams tends to come in handy, but it has to be up there for the Orange. They lost their third and fourth scorers Melissa Piacentini and Nicole Ferrera as well as their starting netminder Jenn Gilligan. I’m not sure how much the Orange will miss the latter; she posted a .902 save percentage while Maddi Welch and Abbey Miller hit .919 and .921, albeit in very limited play.
The Orange need more out of their goaltenders. They finished 28th in team save percentage last season and 30th the season before that.
Biggest Question: Can their goaltending get to at least average?