The CHA gets underway with its first conference games this weekend. Findlay travels to Niagara, Oct. 18-19.
All four of the league’s teams will be in action for the first time as No. 10 Mercyhurst and Wayne State are both busy with nonconference action.
The formation of the league came about as six teams departed the ECAC to form Hockey East, leaving Niagara without a conference as neither league invited the Purple Eagles to be a member.
Meanwhile. Findlay, Mercyhurst and Wayne State were looking for something more than the loose association they had under the auspices of the Great Lakes Women’s Hockey Alliance.
With automatic berths in the NCAA championship in the offing once the tournament expands, it was felt that beginning the conference now would put the CHA in position to get one of those berths.
Findlay coach Adam Brinker feels that the time was right for the formation of the new conference.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” he said. “I think the fact that we have a reputable league, looking at what they have done in men’s hockey, helps us out. We now have an organization with the backbone to do what we want to do.”
The recognition factor is also a plus. The teams will compete for the first CHA Women’s title, March 7-8, 2003, at Wayne State. The fact that there will be individual and team honors are both motivating factors for league members.
“It gives the players something to play for,” Wayne State coach Tom O’Malley said. “It gives them recognition and something to significant which to strive for.”
The geography of the conference should also lend itself to increased competition. Mercyhurst coach Michael Sisti, who’s team won all three GLWHA titles, sees the formation of the new league as a tool for making the four teams, who have all played each other in the past, battle even harder.
“Niagara is a good geographic fit,” he said. “I think we all recruit kids from the same area. Having those kids and being closer together should make for some great games and great battles.”
The Purple Eagles may feel the need to prove something in the league’s first season. After a 19-2-0 record, an ECAC Eastern title and a third-place finish at the Women’s Frozen Four, Niagara was bumped from the conference.
Scheduling, which was more of a problem for the GLWHA teams than for an ECAC member, doesn’t present an immediate problem for Niagara and head coach Margot Page, who had her team’s schedule in place before the new conference alignment was announced.
“We still play a tough schedule with a good mix of conference games along with Hockey East and ECAC teams, very similar to the one we played last year,” Page said. “The only down side is that now our opener is a conference game and we don’t have any games to get ready for that.”
Recruiting to a new league with only four teams may seem to present a problem but Page feels prospective student-athletes are more informed to make college choices than they used to be. Her team’s move should not adversely affect recruiting.
“The kids we recruit are much more knowledgeable about women’s college hockey than they were a few years ago,” she said. “They know who has the good programs and where they can play good hockey so, no, we’re not affected by the move.
Time will tell where the CHA fits into the larger scheme of things. However, with 10th-ranked Mercyhurst and national third-place finisher Niagara leading the way, the conference already boasts two of the nation’s top programs and establishing itself as a competitive league should not be hard for the newest organization in women’s hockey.
CHA “House”Hold Hints
Niagara, which is hosting the first conference games in CHA history this weekend, will have a pregame ceremony honoring last year’s team and its accomplishments … The Purple Eagles will raise banners honoring their ECAC regular-season championship as well as their NCAA Frozen Four appearance … They will also have a ring presentation with their entire 2001-02 team present … Despite losing twice to No. 2 Minnesota, Findlay recorded a school first when Melissa Oliver recorded her 100th career point in Sunday’s 7-1 loss. She is the first Oiler women’s player to reach the plateau … Niagara is the CHA’s last team to open its season … The Purple Eagles have not played an exhibition or regular-season game to date … Findlay and Wayne State opened with exhibition games three weeks ago and Mercyhurst took on Bemidji State, Oct. 4-5 … The Lakers’ 4-0-0 start is the best in their four-year existence … After three exhibition games, Wayne State is opening its regular season with home games this weekend against Colgate … No. 10 Mercyhurst’s series at No. 7 St. Lawrence is the only matchup in the country this weekend between ranked teams.
None for the week ending Oct. 13.
Findlay at Niagara (Friday-Saturday)
Niagara leads the all-time series 5-0-1 … This is the third consecutive season the Purple Eagles have opened by taking on Findlay … Oiler senior Erin Blair was announced as the team’s No. 1 goalie but gave up 15 goals in two home losses to No. 2 Minnesota last weekend … Niagara begins its first season with Tania Pinelli in goal … She earned 67 of the Purple Eagles’ 71 wins in their first four seasons … Junior Jennifer Mascaro, who boasts a 1.87 career goals against average, is expected to be the team’s number-one netminder this season.
Colgate at Wayne State (Friday-Saturday)
Colgate leads the all-time series 3-2-0 … The teams are 1-1-0 as Division I opponents … The Red Raiders open their first season under head coach Scott Wiley, the team’s assistant coach the past three seasons … Wayne State outscored its opponents 14-4 while posting a 2-0-1 record in three exhibition wins … Junior goalie Anna VanderMarliere played in both victories and is expected to get the starting nod in the Warriors’ opener … Sophomore Tina Thibideau, who stopped 23 shots in a 2-2 tie Sunday, will be the backup.
No. 10 Mercyhurst at No. 7 St. Lawrence (Saturday-Sunday)
St. Lawrence holds a 5-0-1 lead in the teams’ all-time series … The Lakers are facing their first ranked opponent of the season after jumping out to a 4-0-0 start … Senior forward C.J. Ireland scored points in each of Mercyhurst’s first three games but had the streak snapped in Sunday’s 4-2 win over Connecticut … Ireland and senior defenseman Randi Pilger will both play in their 100th career game Saturday … After splitting time in goal between senior Tiffany Ribble and sophomore Desirae Clark, Laker coach Michael Sisti went with Ribble in both wins over UConn … Ribble is expected to get the nod this weekend as well … St. Lawrence has one of the country’s most veteran-laden lineups, featuring 16 upperclassmen on its 25-player roster.