Exhibitions signal women’s Division I season beginning

When a season ends in March, autumn and a return to the ice can seem like a lifetime away. Now that September is in its final week however, we can close our eyes and visualize that pristine ice forming in a Zamboni’s wake.

In fact, Mercyhurst, Colgate, and Rochester Institute of Technology already competed in exhibitions over the weekend versus Canadian junior teams Stoney Creek, Etobicoke, and Lakeville, respectively. The three college teams outscored their opponents comfortably by an aggregate score of 24-2.

All three programs face challenges beyond the norm this campaign, so perhaps that played into their early starts. Colgate, where former Elmira coach Greg Fargo replaces Scott Wiley at the helm, heads west to challenge defending champion Minnesota.

RIT, with a shiny NCAA Division-III title added to its laurels in March, steps up to D-I. Coach Scott McDonald will get a first glimpse of how well his winning formula translates at the new level when his Tigers welcome perennial CHA power Mercyhurst.

Even Mike Sisti’s troops in Erie face a less certain future than usual. Yes, the Lakers appeared in a record eighth-straight NCAA tournament. They claimed their tenth consecutive CHA regular season crown. However, Mercyhurst fell to Robert Morris in the league’s tournament championship. The Lakers have experienced league foes going toe-to-toe with them in the past, but not landing the final punch.

Competition ramps up this weekend. Nine more teams have exhibition games, while the first nine NCAA contests will be conducted. The most competitive of the latter, at least on paper, likely occurs Saturday afternoon as Union hosts Connecticut in the first of many meetings of ECAC and Hockey East foes.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be previewing the upcoming action in each conference. The league races appear more wide open than ever. For the first time, each circuit crowned a different champion in its tournament than it had during the regular season.

Adding to the unpredictable landscape of the game is the fact that many key performers on top teams have graduated. Stars of Olympic and other international competition such as Hilary Knight, Rebecca Johnston, Haley Irwin, Natalie Spooner, and Jenn Wakefield have skated into the NCAA sunset. Also gone are a number of goaltenders who were the face of their college teams, such as Kazmaier finalist Florence Schelling, Zuzana Tomcikova, and Genevieve Lacasse,, plus Jennifer Harss, who backstopped UMD’s run to the title as a rookie, and Hillary Pattenden, the winningest goaltender in NCAA history.

When a full schedule resumes, editor Candace Horgan will return to school me once more in the art of discerning order amidst the chaos in our weekly picks contest. Along the way, feel free to chime in as you see fit regarding our selections or other writings.