BEMIDJI, Minn. — College Hockey America announced the formation of a new four-team Division I women’s hockey league to serve as the counterpart to the men’s league created in 1999. The league will begin play immediately in 2002-03.
The inaugural members of the women’s CHA are current men’s CHA members Findlay, Niagara, and Wayne State, as well as Mercyhurst College, whose men’s team plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
All four schools are within a relatively short drive of each other, with Niagara and Mercyhurst located in western New York and western Pennsylvania respectively, Wayne State in Detroit, and Findlay in Ohio.
Niagara previously competed in the ECAC Eastern, but the school was not included in the reorganization that occurred when the new Hockey East Women’s League was formed in late May. The Purple Eagles finished the 2001-02 regular season, their fifth, with a 26-8-2 overall record and were awarded a bid to the NCAA Division I Women’s Tournament. They went on to finish tied for third after a 2-2 deadlock with Minnesota in the consolation game.
Findlay, Mercyhurst, and Wayne State previously competed in the Great Lakes Women’s Hockey Association. Most notably, Mercyhurst finished last season with an impressive 24-8-1 record.
The speed of the creation of the CHA Women’s League was unexpected even by member schools. CHA Commissioner R.H. “Bob” Peters said, “This came together pretty quickly. We have three teams with CHA connections, Niagara, Wayne State, and Findlay. There was a need for this to get together and organized. Mercyhurst certainly made a great geographic fit.”
When left out of the Hockey East re-organization in May, Niagara women’s coach Margot Page indicated that she thought that finding a new conference could take a while: “We need a year to put something together. … It’s part of the growing pains all over women’s hockey, but until we have a game plan … What I’d like to see is the commissioners get together and come up with a [national] five-year plan.”
Regarding potential expansion, Peters stated that “we’re discussing that now, and it’s an open situation. We certainly will entertain any interest from any universities that are exploring women’s hockey. The growth and development of the game is great, and we want to provide an opportunity to have a structure for women’s hockey. We’re certainly open to visiting with other programs, even though we’re spread out geographically.”
With Niagara joining the former GLWHA schools to form the CHA, only two Division I schools remain with Independent status. Quinnipiac was also left without a home when the formation of Hockey East was announced, but unlike Niagara, it will not be a member of the CHA. The other Independent is North Dakota, which begins its women’s varsity program in 2002-03 and appears a candidate for the WCHA down the road.
With the announcement, the number of conferences in women’s NCAA Division I hockey stands at four: the CHA, ECAC (last year’s ECAC Northern), Hockey East, and WCHA. All four have men’s counterparts.
The four CHA schools will compete in a conference postseason tournament on March 8-9, 2003, at Detroit’s City Ice Arena. Wayne State University will host the tournament. No conferences receive automatic qualifiers for the NCAA postseaon, but as Peters noted, “The exposure of this tournament will certainly help, and Wayne State will be a good host.”