While the NCAA first started running women’s ice hockey for the 2000-2001 season, College Hockey America (CHA) added it two years later. The CHA is a hockey-only and women’s-only conference, as the men’s side folded in 2010. It is the smallest conference in DI women’s hockey and serves something of a hodgepode of schools, as its members hail from New York, Pennsylvania, and Missouri. The CHA has received an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship 1st round since the ’14-’15 season, which is awarded to the College Hockey America Tournament champion.
Now for a brief overview of the CHA’s teams and how they are doing as of the midseason break:
Lindenwood Lady Lions
Lindenwood joined the DI hockey for 2011-12 season, and the CHA for the 2012-13 season, but there’s been a women’s team since the 2003-04 season. They won four American Collegiate Hockey Association championships when they were still a club team and dominated their opponents, which likely propelled the switch. Since switching the Lions have faltered and eventually switched from their original head coach Vince O’Mara to their current one, Scott Spence, in 20014. They are the only NCAA women’s hockey team in Missouri and will be hosting this year’s Women’s Frozen Four.
This season the Lions are 2-5-1 in conference and 4-12-2 overall. Currently they’re ranked 5th in the CHA, though they’re only a point behind Mercyhurst. They went into the break on the upswing, splitting the series with North Dakota, who was ranked 10th in the nation at the time. Depending on how the second half of their season goes, and if they have their first successful College Hockey America Tournament, Lindenwood could have a chance to do more than host the Frozen Four. The Lions return to the ice on December 30th for an exhibit game against Team USA of the World University Games, which is a team composed of the best club hockey players in the nation. January 6th is when their regular season resumes against Wisconsin.
First icing a team for the 1999-00 season, the Mercyhurst Lakers have been a force in women’s hockey, especially in their home conference. Originally part of the Great Lakes Women’s Hockey Association, they finished all three seasons as regular season champions and won the conference tournament in 2002. When the CHA formed for the 2002-03 season, Mercyhurst was a founding member and is the only one still active in DI women’s hockey. They have dominated the CHA, winning 11 tournaments (appearing in 13 finals), earned the title of regular season champion 13 times, and the one season they did not earn it they were ranked second. The Lakers regularly qualify for the NCAA tournament and once made it to the Frozen Four championship match, but lost to Wisconsin in 2009. Michael Sisti has been the Mercyhurst women’s hockey team head coach since the beginning.
This season the Lakers are having a rougher time in conference than they historically have. Their current record is 6-13-1 overall and 3-5-0 in conference, which puts ranks them 4th in the CHA. They limped into break on a three game losing streak and obviously hope to pull the team together before the second half of the season begins. The Lakers next play on January 7th against St. Lawrence.
Penn State Nittany Lions
The Penn State Nittany Lions women’s team originated as an ACHA club team in the 1996-97 season. The Lions made the switch to NCAA hockey, starting as a DI program in the CHA, for the 2012-13 season. When Penn State made the switch to NCAA hockey they hired Josh Brandwene as head coach and he is still in that position for the team. While they had a poor record their first two season, the Lions did fairly well for themselves the next two and played in two CHA tournament championship games. They have yet to make an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
The Lions are 4-3-1 in conference and 5-10-3 overall this season. That ranks them firmly in third place for CHA standings as of the midseason break, which came quite early for the team—started after a 6-5 loss, their fourth in a row, to Robert Morris on December 4th. So it’s of little surprise the break ends before the New Year when Penn State plays Quinnipiac on December 30th.
Rochester Institute of Technology is another fairly recent addition to the CHA, moving to it and DI hockey in the 2012-13 season after dominating the ECA West DIII for five years, which included three appearances in the DIII NCAA Tournament. However, the Tigers have a much longer history than that—dating back to the 1975-1976 season they spent 32 years improving their game in the ECAC DIII East. The Tigers won the CHA tournament in 2014 and 2015, which meant they were the first CHA team to use an auto-bid into the first round of the NCAA tournament and they managed to do that the first year they were eligible.
Unsurprisingly, RIT has had many head coaches over the years. Their current is Scott McDonald, who is in his 11th season with the team. At the moment RIT is ranked last in the CHA, with a season record of 1-6-1 in conference and 3-18-1 overall. Hopefully the Tigers will be able to work something out over the break, since the second half of their season is a series of CHA match ups. Their next game is on January 13th against Mercyhurst.
Robert Morris Lady Colonials
Robert Morris began its women’s hockey program for the 2005-06 season, which was the same year it joined the CHA. So far the program’s had middling success, twice finishing the season ranked 2nd in the CHA and they won the 2012 CHA tournament. However, the Lady Colonials have yet to qualify for the NCAA tournament, as the CHA did not have an auto-bid for its tournament champion when Robert Morris won. Paul Colontino is the head coach and in his sixth season with the team.
Currently the Lady Colonials are queens of the CHA standings, their 7-0-1 in conference record gives them a five-point lead over second place Syracuse. With an overall record of 12-1-5 they are currently ranked 9th nationally. If they can keep this up they could qualify for their first NCAA tournament. As the team’s last game was back on December 4th against Penn State, they’ll be back in action against Brown on December 30th.
The Syracuse Orange women’s hockey team inaugural season was 2008-09 as a member of the CHA. Since then they have performed well in their conference, three times finishing the season ranked second and typically finishing in the top two-thirds. Syracuse must have a real bone to pick with Mercyhurst, as they have lost to them five times in their conference tournament finals and been knocked out of the tournament twice more by them. They have yet to make an appearance in the NCAA tournament. Paul Flanagan has been the Orange’s head coach since the team’s inception.
Syracuse are in a familiar position this season, second place in the CHA, though this time they’re chasing a different team. They have a respectable for the CHA record 4-2-2 in conference and 5-8-5 record overall. Perhaps this is the year they’ll finally win the CHA tournament. While they started the break after a tie and loss to Clarkson on December 10th, the Golden Knights were ranked fourth nationally at the time, so taking the point meant something to Syracuse. Unfortunately for the team their season resumes on January 4th against another difficult foe, sixth ranked nationally Boston College.
Singular Independence: The Sacred Heart Pioneers
Since the CHA is the small of the DI women’s hockey teams, it seemed reasonable to cover the independent women teams in this article as well. For this season, there is only one independent team, which is with Sacred Heart University.
The Sacred Heart Pioneers have been a women’s hockey team since the 1996-97 season, though until the 2003-04 season they were a DIII team in the ECAC East. Since then the Pioneers have been an independent team with Thomas O’Malley as their head coach. This season the Sacred Heart Pioneers women’s team has a record of 8-6-1, playing against DI & DIII NCAA hockey teams. The Pioneers will resume their season against Southern Main, a DIII ECAC East team, on January 3rd.