This Week in the CHA Women’s League: Dec. 5, 2002

The first season of play in the CHA women’s league is a unique one, starting with the fact that it was pioneered only a few months before play began.

With that in mind, and with this being the last CHA Women’s column for 2002, here’s a look at the league’s four teams through the season’s first half.

Niagara (7-7-0, 3-1-0 CHA, 1st place)

The Purple Eagles, coming off a third-place finish at the NCAA Frozen Four, probably expected to get off to a bit of a slow start with the loss of a large senior class. However, a .500 record at this point, including a current five-game losing streak, was not in the plans.

Niagara will need to tighten its defense to end its current slide and to have any chance of returning the Frozen Four. … In their last five games, [the Purple Eagles] have allowed 26 goals and are giving up more than 34 shots per game.

With three games remaining before an appreciated 14-day break, Niagara will look to get back on track with a home game versus Maine Saturday, a road game at Cornell Sunday and next Saturday’s conference showdown at home with Mercyhurst.

Niagara will need to tighten its defense to end its current slide and to have any chance of returning the Frozen Four. In their first nine games, the Purple Eagles were 7-2-0 and allowing fewer than two goals per game. In their last five games, they’ve allowed 26 goals and are giving up more than 34 shots per game.

In the past, goalie Tania Pinelli was able to bail Niagara out of games like that. Despite solid goaltending from junior Jen Mascaro and freshman Breanne Doyle, the Purple Eagles don’t have a goalie who has the proven ability to win games by herself.

Offensively, Niagara will look to get larger contributions from several players. Senior Val Hall and sophomore Teresa Marchese-Del Monte have shouldered most of the load, accounting for one-third of the team’s goals while sharing the scoring lead with 17 points.

Six games with ranked opponents, including three with No. 7 Providence, during the second half of the season will be key in determining Niagara’s postseason fate.

Mercyhurst (10-5-1, 2-0-0 CHA, 2nd place)

The Lakers’ inability to knock off quality opponents, posting an 0-5-1 record against ranked opponents, has been the team’s downfall thus far and is a trend which they will attempt to halt this weekend with Saturday’s game at No. 8 Brown.

Mercyhurst took a small step in that direction with a 2-2 tie, ending their five-game skid against ranked teams two weeks ago at home against Princeton.

Senior Tiffany Ribble and sophomore Desirae Clark have provided the Lakers with outstanding goaltending, combining for a 1.74 goals against average, a .924 save percentage and four shutouts.

The team’s defensive play has been solid as well, allowing just 23 shots per game and killing penalties at a .900 clip.

Creating offense has also not been the problem for the Lakers, but putting the puck in the net has been. Sophomore Sara McDonald leads the team with seven goals and is tied for the team lead with nine points.

Despite outshooting opponents by 10 shots per game, the Lakers are outscoring opponents by less than a goal per game. In five losses, they have scored just eight goals on 127 shots. Even in its 10 wins, Mercyhurst is averaging just 2.9 goals per game, with one-fourth of those goals coming in a 7-1 win over Findlay.

With three road games before the end of the year, including Saturday’s game at Brown and next week at Niagara, the Lakers have a chance to collect a couple of quality wins heading into the break. With just four games against teams currently at or above .500 during the second half of the season, Mercyhurst will need those quality wins now if it hopes to entertain thoughts of an NCAA berth in March.

Findlay (7-8-1, 1-3-0 CHA, 3rd place)

With Wednesday’s 4-2 win at Wayne State, the Oilers wrap up the 2002 portion of their schedule one game under .500, their best record in three years through 16 games but not up to preseason expectations.

Like Mercyhurst, an inability to put the puck in the net has been Findlay’s downfall. Sophomore forward Heidi Tallqvist has 10 goals in 16 games but has scored nearly one-fourth of the team’s 41 goals. Despite averaging 6.4 power plays per game, the Oilers have converted on just 18 of 103 chances. They are 3-for-53 in their eight losses.

Freshman goalie Jessica Moffat has been exceptional and, playing in tandem with senior Erin Blair, has provided Findlay with quality goaltending, combining for a 2.98 GAA and a .905 save percentage. Moffat’s .952 save percentage is tops in the nation.

The Oilers return to action Jan. 3 and 5 to face St. Lawrence and Dartmouth on the road. The two-game trip will be their last games this season against teams presently ranked.

Wayne State (5-6-0, 0-2-0 CHA, 4th place)

The Warriors’ have been unable to establish any momentum through the first half of the season, which culminates this weekend with a pair of games at North Dakota. They’ve yet to win more than two games in a row, yet have lost back-to-back games only once in compiling a 5-6-0 mark.

Most of Wayne State’s games thus far have been defensive in nature. On average, the Warriors and their opponents are averaging fewer than five goals and just over 51 shots per game. WSU allows just 24 shots per game with a team GAA of 2.45.

Junior Anna VanderMarliere has been the beneficiary of the defensive support, putting up a 1.74 GAA and .930 save percentage while starting seven of the team’s 11 games.

Offensively, the team has struggled, barely averaging two goals per game. Sophomore Heidi Burns and freshman Emily McGrath-Agg share the team lead in goals with four. Burns is one of three players who share the team lead with six points. Meanwhile, sophomore Kelly Zamora, who led the team with 11 goals last season, has been unable to get going this season. Her goal in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Findlay was her first of the season.

Three of the Warriors’ five wins have been against non-Division I teams, and they have yet to play a team that was ranked when they met, something which will change when Wayne State returns from the break to face Brown and Harvard on the road, Jan. 3-4.

CHA Awards

No players of the week were selected.