It’s conference tournament time.
Two weeks, three rounds, and four conference champions will be determined. More so than any previous year, a wide variety of narratives could unfold in most of the leagues. Let’s scratch the surface of what a few of those might be.
College Hockey America
No. 1 Mercyhurst versus Bye
Postseason history: Bye was no match for the Lakers in last year’s quarterfinal.
Impact players: Junior forward Emily Janiga posted her third straight season of 40-plus points with a career-best 45; classmate Jenna Dingeldein (35 points) is also in the 100-point club for her career.
Hurdles to overcome: Their inconsistency over the last 14 games has been surprisingly unlike the Lakers, trudging along at 7-6-1.
Why they will advance: The Lakers have reached the final of every CHA tournament.
Why the Lakers will win the CHA tournament: While the advantage over the rest of the league has shrunk, Mercyhurst is still hosting and needs a tournament win to add to its string of 10 consecutive NCAA appearances. In addition to the top scorers in the league, the Lakers possess the top-scoring defenseman in senior Molly Byrne.
Record: none recorded
Impact players: none; it doesn’t even have players.
Hurdles to overcome: Questions remain regarding coaching, scoring, goaltending, every other position, and willingness to compete.
Why it will advance: Mercyhurst won’t see it coming.
Why it will win the CHA tournament: Bye has been able to find its way to the bracket of many national tournaments over the years; now that the CHA has an automatic bid, look out.
No. 2 Syracuse versus Bye
Postseason history: The Orange advanced with a quarterfinal bye in 2013.
Impact players: Junior Melissa Piacentini leads the team with 18 goals and is tied for the points lead at 29 with freshman Stephanie Grossi, the team assists leader with 20.
Hurdles to overcome: Syracuse has struggled at times to put together a full 60 minutes and has been done in by bad stretches in games.
Why they will advance: Despite their propensity to tie, the Orange should be able to manage this one.
Why the Orange will win the CHA tournament: They are the best team in the league of those still looking for a first conference championship, and now that they’ve finally earned that elusive first win over Mercyhurst, the Orange should enter the playoffs with more confidence.
Record: winless on the season
Impact players: cannot point to anyone who is likely to be a factor.
Hurdles to overcome: One of the knocks on Bye over the years is that it doesn’t show up for big games.
Why it will advance: I doubt that it can; Bye isn’t even going through the motions.
Why it will win the CHA tournament: I don’t see it; Bye lacks championship mettle.
No. 3 Robert Morris versus RIT
Postseason history: The Tigers beat RMU, 4-1 in the semifinals, in 2014.
Robert Morris Colonials
Impact players: The sophomore class provides much of the clout for the Colonials, including leading scorers Mackenzie Johnston, defenseman Mikaela Lowater, Rikki Meilleur, and goalie Jessica Dodds.
Hurdles to overcome: Robert Morris was maddeningly mediocre in most areas over the course of the season, but its sweep at Penn State was its most complete weekend to date.
Why they will advance: The playoffs provide an opportunity to atone for everything that has gone wrong over the year and get back to the championship game for the first time since winning it three years ago.
Why the Colonials will win the CHA tournament: After a nightmarish start to the season, RMU has gone 5-3-2 over the past month and at last looks to be gathering momentum.
Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers
Impact players: When healthy, senior Ali Binnington is one of the top goaltenders in the country. Offense has to be by committee, because top scorer Celeste Brown is tied for 18th in the league.
Hurdles to overcome: The Tigers will need to play a complete game, because they don’t have the firepower to compensate for lulls in intensity.
Why they will advance: RIT visited Robert Morris two weeks ago and played a pair of 2-2 ties. Repeating those games would favor the underdog.
Why the Tigers will win the CHA tournament: This is the final chance for a very accomplished senior class to write another chapter in program history, and they’ve been at their best in the postseason.
No. 4 Penn State versus Lindenwood
Postseason history: This is the first postseason clash of the two programs.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Impact players: Sophomore forward Laura Bowman emerged as a star and is the league’s third-leading scorer, while junior Celine Whitlinger ranks second in the CHA in winning percentage and third in save percentage.
Hurdles to overcome: After contending for the conference crown, PSU finished with a five-game losing streak that dropped it down to fourth; the team will need to shake off that disappointment in a hurry.
Why they will advance: The excitement of the first home playoff game in program history should help dispel any blues not related to the uniform color.
Why the Nittany Lions will win the CHA tournament: Why not? Things looked dark for Cinderella when the hour grew late, and it turned out okay for her.
Impact players: Senior Jordyn Constance and junior Shara Jasper, both with 27 points, have provided the Lions a one-two punch that they’ve lacked previously.
Hurdles to overcome: Lindenwood hasn’t won two games in one weekend all season.
Why they will advance: The Lions have never won a postseason game, but then neither has their opponent.
Why the Lions will win the CHA tournament: Nicole Hensley; if Lindenwood is going to top last year’s win by RIT for biggest CHA shocker of all time, their junior goaltender will need to take her place in program lore from historic to legendary.