The late, great Harry Nilsson once wrote a tune about “one” being the loneliest number.
Applied to womenâ€™s hockey (and what a leap that is), that number would be four.
As in the small number of programs that make up College Hockey America.
It begs such musical questions as, â€œWhen is a League Not a League?â€, or â€œWill You Notice If Weâ€™re Gone?â€.
In considering the state of women’s college hockey, and the viability of the scuffling CHA, once could ruminate on the old hit by Mental As Anything, â€œIf You Leave Me, Can I Come Too?â€.
The conclusion is invariably this. Having a fourth thriving loop to compliment the established ones — Hockey East, ECAC, WCHA — is in everyoneâ€™s best interest.
â€œWe need that fourth league,â€ said Brian McCloskey, whose New Hampshire squad has dominated Hockey East since that leagueâ€˜s inception. â€œWe really do. I think the ECAC is solid. Obviously the WCHA has won seven (NCAA) titles. Our leagueâ€™s growing, and I can see us expanding. We need the CHA to develop into a solid, six or seven team league.â€
Agreeing on solutions for bolstering the six-year-old CHA is another matter.
The CHA features one perennially ranked power (Mercyhurst), one former Frozen Four entry (Niagara), plus fledgling programs Wayne State and Robert Morris.
Bumping up the membership to six teams, the number needed for an NCAA auto-bid, is the conundrum.
â€œHopefully it happens in my lifetime,â€ said Niagara coach Margot Page, who no doubt has placed such a wish on her “bucket list”.
It wouldnâ€™t be a problem, of course, if schools were lining up to ice Divisions-I squads.
But theyâ€™re not.
The only new D-I program on the horizon is Syracuse University, which everyone agrees would be a good fit for the CHA. But that marriage has yet to be consummated.
Heck, they havenâ€™t gotten to the flirting stage. Not yet, anyway.
And indie Sacred Heart’s invitation seems to have gotten lost in the mail.
â€œItâ€™s a growing pain that can be alleviated pretty quickly,â€ said Page, â€œif people look at things more globally. You look at the ECAC, Hockey East, WCHA, they all have plenty of teams in their leagues. If they want to, they can create a fourth league. It can be done. Especially with Syracuse ready to go.
â€œAt some point in time, people have to wake up and say, â€˜what can we do to help womenâ€™s hockey.’ Itâ€™s a big picture thing, and I hope people open their eyes. For me as a coach in that four-team league, I see the possibility of that league. Perhaps if we bring Syracuse in, and get one other team, we can wait the two years and get an â€˜AQâ€™ (auto-qualifer/bid). Perfect. But if it doesnâ€™t happen, it doesnâ€™t happen. And it tells me that not many people care so much about the growth of the game. Because not many [schools] are going to open up teams if they canâ€™t go somewhere.â€
For those already skating in the CHA, the best approach is to bulk up the loop from the inside.
â€œThe big picture is this,â€ said Robert Morris coach Nate Handrahan. â€œThe CHA has had four teams in the womenâ€™s conference for a long time. Weâ€™re very solid at this point. The growth of the game is going to help us. I believe that [for] a school like Syracuse, itâ€™s the right fit for them. But obviously, they have to make that decision.
â€œWeâ€™re a good league. We have good teams in our league. Sometimes, because weâ€™re smaller, we donâ€™t get the same recognition. But thatâ€™s okay by us. But for the growth of the game, there needs to be four conferences. I think weâ€™re going to continue to exist. Weâ€™ll move forward and search for more teams.â€
As Page sees it, the problems inherent in operating with just four teams are manifold.
â€œFor me,â€ she said, â€œthe four team league hurts in a lot of different ways. Itâ€™s tough to recruit, when youâ€™re not going to get an auto bid. For us, we have to win every game, because the only way we could get in would be our record. Basically, the only we could get in is if we finish in the top five. From a recruiting standpoint, kids are looking at that, because they want to go to the post-season.â€
McCloskey, for one, is sympathetic to their plight.
â€œItâ€™s hard for them. It would be nice to see the CHA expand, somehow, someway. Just to give it a little more depth, and merit. I think that teams like Mercyhurst, and Wayne, and Niagara, theyâ€™ve really hung tough. And theyâ€™re icing pretty good programs. But the league is only as viable as its ability to stay competitive and get competition. Thatâ€™s one of the reasons why weâ€™ve always tried to play those teams within reason. We donâ€™t want them to go south.â€
If nothing else, teams in the CHA seem to have honed the edges on their coping skills.
And if you ask Robert Morris co-captain Morgan Beikrich, the current set up suitâ€™s the Colonials just fine.
â€œIf anything, we think of it as a positive,â€ she said. â€œWe donâ€™t look further than that. We donâ€™t need to. In what other conference can you win two [tournament] games and be conference champions. Weâ€™re in a perfect position as a matter of fact. I donâ€™t think we look at it as a negative. I donâ€™t think we should. Thatâ€™s just where we ended up, and weâ€™re glad to take it.â€
Maybe fourâ€™s not so lonely, after all.
Not as lonely as three, anyway.