Look to Mercyhurst, again, in the CHA

Jenn Gilligan (SU - 33) - The Boston College Eagles defeated the visiting Syracuse University Orange 10-2 on Saturday, October 4, 2014, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Jenn Gilligan gives Syracuse solid goaltending, and might help the Orange overcome Mercyhurst. (Melissa Wade)

C-H-A could easily be followed by an “O-S” when it comes to College Hockey America. Chaos is defined as, “a state of utter confusion or disorder.” That describes last season’s CHA race fairly well.

Mercyhurst looked more vulnerable than it has in recent memory before emerging on top, as it always has.

In terms of wins, it was a bit of a disappointing season for the league. Mercyhurst was the only team to approach 20 wins, after the CHA had four 20-win squads the year before. The Lakers wound up with 23 victories; you’d have to go back to 2000-01 to find a season where they had fewer.

One reason why there was a lack of gaudy win totals atop the conference is that it lacked defenseless weaklings near the bottom on which others could fatten up. In 2013-14, neither Lindenwood nor Penn State got beyond a handful of wins overall. Last year, all of the CHA teams reached double digits.

Then we add in RIT’s propensity to yo-yo all over the map when comparing its regular season and postseason performance: third, to first, to worst, back to first. Where are the Tigers headed next?

Admittedly, there are likely to be more fluctuations in a league with six teams where each team plays only 20 conference games, but that’s only one fewer game than Hockey East played up until its expansion this year and only two fewer than the 12-team ECAC.

Maybe a better explanation is that so many of the programs in the CHA are new, and the rosters of new teams tend to be thinner and results more dependent on the presence or absence of a player or two.

In any case, the CHA offers what we desire in athletic competition, the ability of every team to compete. All the leagues like to say that on any given day any team can beat any other team. Teams like Minnesota State and Union must not have had games scheduled on that “given day” last year. In the CHA, the saying is actually true. Any shocking upset is of rather low voltage.

The CHA now has one year of experience with the automatic qualifier to the NCAAs riding on the conference championship.

“What a lot of leagues have had the luxury of is that little carrot at the end of the season, knowing that the playoffs become a whole new goal,” Robert Morris coach Paul Colontino said. “The truth is, in the CHA without that autobid, it can be tough on individuals and players and teams knowing that you’re just playing for your playoffs and there’s nothing any further if you’re not in that top eight. I think the autobid with all four leagues is a great balancing aspect in the sense that now the players in the CHA have that same carrot that the WCHA, Hockey East, and the ECAC have all had. You can have a second season even if you struggle through the first part.”

With all that said, I’m supposed to predict this year’s order of finish. Sure, I can do that, but just remember the degree of confidence I have in these predictions. Chaos it is, but here goes:

1) Mercyhurst
2) Syracuse
3) RIT
4) Robert Morris
5) Penn State
6) Lindenwood

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