Last season, College Hockey America needed an automatic bid to get a team into the NCAA Tournament. In 2018-19, one of Mercyhurst or Robert Morris will try to emerge as the team to beat, and perhaps work their way into position to earn an at-large bid. There could be some shaking up in the middle of the CHA standings, too; here’s how I see things playing out in the conference this year.
Head Coach: Michael Sisti
2017-18 Record: 18-15-4 (13-4-3 CHA)
Key Departures: F Brooke Hartwick, F Jenna MacAskill
Key Returners: F Vilma Tanskanen, F Emma Nuutinen, F Maggie Knott, F Alexa Vasko, F Summer-Rae Dobson, D Molly Blasen, D Samantha Fieseler, D Rachel Marmen, G Kennedy Blair, G Sarah McDonnell
Key Additions: F Sarah Nelles, D Alexane Rheaume
Breakout Candidate: F Alexa Vasko. She had a strong U22 camp and series for Team Canada in August and should build off a goal and 10 assists as a freshman.
3 Things to Know
- Mercyhurst was last year’s CHA Tournament champion and had a good but short-lived NCAA Tournament showing, losing to eventual national champion Clarkson 2-1 in overtime.
- The Lakers’ transfers from North Dakota were a crucial part of their success last year: Nuutinen was the CHA Tournament’s most valuable player, Tanskanen tied for the team lead in goals with 14, and Blair secured the starting role in net by season’s end, finishing with a .934 save percentage and 1.57 GAA in 22 games played.
- I like the Lakers’ depth and versatility at forward; one player in particular who stands out is Morgan Stacey, who led the conference in shot blocks with 87.
I think the Lakers were a little bit better than their record showed last season, especially when you factor in their strong out-of-conference schedule. They only lose two players, and their goaltending is much more proven than basically any other CHA team. They don’t have a superb blue line but their top four is competitive and they return so much of their scoring. I think they edge out Robert Morris for first in the conference, but the match-ups will be close.
Robert Morris Colonials
Head Coach: Paul Colontino
2017-18 Record: 21-8-4 (14-3-3 CHA)
Key Departures: F Brittany Howard, F Jessica Gazzola, F Amanda Pantaleo, D Katherine Murphy, G Elijah Milne-Price
Key Returners: F Jaycee Gebhard, F Amber Rennie, F Lexi Templeman, D Kirsten Welsh, D Maggie Lague, D Emily Curlett, G Lauren Bailey
Key Additions: F Courtney Kollman, F Mackenzie Krasowski, D Wasyn Rice, G Arielle DeSmet
Breakout Candidate: D Emily Curlett. She had a great rookie season with 9 goals, 9 assists and 18 points, while also leading the team in blocks (70).
3 Things to Know
- The Colonials have been the team to beat in the CHA the last couple of years, posting two straight 20-win seasons. They’ll hope to improve on that mark in 2018-19.
- Howard graduated as the program’s first All-American and the Colonials’ all-time leading scorer with 181 points. She’ll be sorely missed as an offensive leader after a 49-point senior season (25 goals, 24 assists).
- The top four scorers in the CHA last season were all from Robert Morris: Howard, Gebhard, 2017-18 CHA Defender of the Year Welsh, and Rennie.
Replacing a player as dynamic as Brittany Howard won’t be easy, and there’s a big hole in net as well with Milne-Price’s graduation. Gebhard and Templeman should be able to step up their production, and rookie Courtney Kollman is a Canadian U18 program alum. I think the Colonials benefit from a strong, mobile blue line, and continue to compete for a top-two seed in the conference and an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Head Coach: Paul Flanagan
2017-18 Record: 13-21-2 (11-8-1 CHA)
Key Departures: F Stephanie Grossi, F Alysha Burriss, F Brooke Avery, D Megan Quinn, G Abbey Miller
Key Returners: F Savannah Rennie, F Kelli Roswell, F Emma Polaski, D Lindsay Eastwood, D Jessica DiGirolamo, D Allie Munroe, G Ady Cohen, G Maddy Welch
Key Additions: F Abby Moloughney, F Anonda Hoppner, F Lauren Bellefontaine,
Breakout Candidate: F Emma Polaski. She showed promise as a rookie with 19 points and will be expected to step up this season.
3 Things to Know
- Syracuse’s leading returning scorer is a defender: Lindsay Eastwood, who posted 23 points (4 goals, 19 assists) last year.
- Cohen and Welch – the only two goalies on the roster – had just 140 minutes of game action between them last season.
- The Orange’s D should be in decent shape this year with Eastwood, Munroe and DiGirolamo, but they have a lot to make up for among their forwards: Burriss, Avery and Grossi were their leading forward scorers last year, and Grossi graduates as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 117 points.
There is a lot of turnover on the Orange roster this year, and I’m guessing there will be some growing pains. Grossi, Burriss and Avery are all big pieces to lose, and Syracuse doesn’t have an immediate answer in net, either, following Miller’s graduation and Daniela Paniccia’s departure. Their puck movers on D should be a difference maker, but I think they’ll face some pressure from Penn State in the standings race. They’ll fight to stay in the top half of the conference.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Head Coach: Jeff Kampersal
2017-18 Record: 9-15-11 (5-7-7 CHA)
Key Departures: D Bella Sutton, G Hannah Ehresmann
Key Returners: F Natalie Heising, F Katie Rankin, F Brooke Madsen, F Sophie Slattery, D Kelsey Crow, D Katie McMillan
Key Additions: F Loli Fidler, D Jessica Adolfsson, D Rene Gangarosa, D Amy Dobson, G Jenna Brenneman
Breakout Candidate: F Katie Rankin. She was second on the team in goals and third in points as rookie (7-12–19).
3 Things to Know
- 9 of the team’s top 10 scorers are returning from last year. They’ll look to take a collective step forward and improve production, hopefully boosting the team’s 1.81 goals per game from last season.
- Penn State was below .500 last season, but they led the nation with 11 ties.
- Nittany Lions sophomore Natalie Heising is the reigning CHA Rookie of the Year; she led Penn State in scoring last season with 28 points. Her 19 goals were good enough for second in the CHA.
There is some promise among the team’s forwards, with Heising hoping to build off of a great rookie season. But there are some question marks defensively with the departures of goaltender Hannah Ehresmann and defender Bella Sutton, who had a significant impact on their blue line. If they can get some more production out of Heising, classmate Katie Rankin and junior Brooke Madsen, they have an outside chance to challenge Syracuse and move up in the standings.
Head Coach: Scott Spencer
2017-18 Record: 10-20-1 (8-12-0 CHA)
Key Departures: F Britannia Gillanders, D Mariah Hinds
Key Returners: F Taylor Girard, F Cierra Paisley, F Sierra Burt, F Hannah Alt, D Courtney Ganske, D Ally Larson, G Jolene deBruyn
Key Additions: F Nikki Friesen, F Nicole Guagliardo, D Taylor Kirwan, D Jane Jacobs
Breakout Candidate: F Hannah Alt, who’s coming off of a 10-goal rookie season.
3 Things to Know:
- The Lions return all but two of their top 10 scorers from last season (Gillanders and Hinds).
- The Lions were dead last in shots on goal in College Hockey America last season. If they want to get over the hump and move up from fifth in the standings, offensive opportunities will need to improve.
- This summer, Lindenwood and the St. Louis Blues broke ground on a new ice arena. The St. Louis Community Ice Arena will be the women’s hockey program’s new home rink.
For their offense to improve, I think someone has to emerge as a bona fide leader up front. Girard is coming off of a 24-point season, while Alt and Burt had decent seasons as rookies. Lindenwood should be able to get reliable goaltending from senior Jolene deBruyn, and it’s nice to have so many important pieces back on defense. Stability will be crucial there this year, but I’m not sure they have the talent level to jump up to fourth in the standings, with Penn State on the rise.
Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers
Head Coach: Chad Davis
2017-18 Record: 4-27-3 (1-18-0 CHA)
Key Departures: N/A
Key Returners: F Tori Haywood, F Mallory Rushton, F Brittney Gout, F Kandice Sheriff, D Ellie Larson, D Taylor Baker, G Terra Lanteigne
Key Additions: F Hunter Barnett, F Abby Davies, F McKinley Karpa, D Madison Itagaki
Breakout Candidate: F Brittney Gout. There is room for improvement for the sophomore after a 13-point freshman season.
3 Things to Know:
- The Tigers have a new head coach this year: Chad Davis takes control of the reins after a successful coaching year with Adrian College at the Division III level.
- RIT had its worst season at the Division I level in 2017-18, and they haven’t had a winning record since 2013-14.
- No Tigers player cracked the 20-point threshold last season, though senior Kendall Cornine hit that mark two years ago and was the leading scorer last year with 11 goals and 16 points.
The outlook overall for the Tigers in 2018-19 is not very encouraging. They’re not losing any impact players, which is good, but the team only had four wins and they’re not adding any impact players, either. Goaltending is also a little bit of a question mark, and the battle in net should be interesting, with Terra Lanteigne getting the bulk of the action last season. RIT won’t yield any results from new coach Chad Davis quite yet; the focus for this squad will be on laying the groundwork for the future.
Preseason All-CHA Awards
Player of the Year: Emma Nuutinen, F, Mercyhurst
Rookie of the Year: Courtney Kollman, F, Robert Morris
Best Defender: Allie Munroe, Syracuse
Best Defensive Forward: Morgan Stacey, Mercyhurst
All-CHA First Team
Forwards: Emma Nuutinen (Mercyhurst), Jaycee Gebhard (Robert Morris), Natalie Heising (Penn State)
Defenders: Allie Munroe (Syracuse), Kirsten Welsh (Robert Morris)
Goaltender: Kennedy Blair (Mercyhurst)
All-CHA Second Team
Forwards: Maggie Knott (Mercyhurst), Vilma Tanskanen (Mercyhurst), Taylor Girard (Lindenwood)
Defenders: Lindsay Eastwood (Syracuse), Emily Curlett (Robert Morris)
Goaltender: Jolene deBruyn (Lindenwood)