College Hockey America (CHA), an NCAA Division I women's ice hockey conference, formed in the fall of 2002 with four teams. The original members included three teams from the former Great Lakes Women's Hockey Association – Findlay, Mercyhurst and Wayne State – and Niagara, who previously played in the ECAC.
In the league's first year of competition, 2002-03, each member played two games against each of the other conference schools. Mercyhurst won the regular-season title with a 6-0 record. The Lakers continued on to win the first-ever CHA postseason tournament, held at the City Sports Center Arena in Detroit, with victories over Wayne State and Findlay.
The league has seen several changes in membership since 2002. Mercyhurst is the only remaining original member. Findlay dropped women's ice hockey after the 2003-04 season, only to be replaced by Quinnipiac, who played the previous season as a Division I independent. The Bobcats played one year in CHA before joining their men's team in the ECAC. Robert Morris replaced Quinnipiac prior to the 2005-06 season to keep membership at four. Syracuse was added as a fifth member for the 2008-09 season, and the league schedule increased to 16 games, four head-to-head games against each of the other members.
In that season the conference tournament also expanded to a three-day event for the first time in league history. The league dropped back to four members when Wayne State dropped women's hockey prior to the 2010-11 season. New commissioner Robert DeGregorio oversaw another period of transition, ushering in three new members, Lindenwood, Penn State and RIT, for the start of the 2012-13 season. Niagara dropped women's ice hockey during the same offseason, leaving the league with its six current members.
Regular and post-season Titles
Mercyhurst has been the benchmark of College Hockey America since the inaugural season, winning 12-of-13 regular season titles outright, including 2013-14. They tied with Wayne State in 2007-08, and the Warriors were awarded the top seed in the conference tournament. The Lakers ultimately took the championship game from the host team, 2-1 in overtime.
The Lakers have also won 11-of-12 post-season tournaments. The 2012 CHA Championship was hosted by the number two seed Robert Morris. Prior to 2013, the tournament site was predetermined, not awarded to the regular season championship The Colonials made the most of their home ice advantage, winning their first-ever league title by shocking the top seeded Lakers, 3-2, and ending Mercyhurst's run of nine-straight league championships.
The Lakers claimed the title again in 2013, their third on home ice, with a 4-1 win over Syracuse. The Lakers earned home ice again in 2014, but it was the RIT Tigers that stole the show. In just their second D-I season, Scott McDonald's team upset the second-seed Robert Morris in the quarterfinals, and toppled the Lakers in the championship game, 2-1, in double overtime. Junior goaltender Ali Binnington made 62 saves in the title game, and earned Tournament MVP honors.
Mercyhurst earned the league's first-ever bid to the NCAA tournament in 2005, and have made nine-straight appearances since. In 2009, the Lakers skated by St. Lawrence and Minnesota to reach the program's – and the league's – first national championship game. They eventually lost to Wisconsin in the final game.
The following season Mercyhurst became the first CHA member to host the NCAA Women's Frozen Four, held ad the Erie (Pa.) Civic Center. The Lakers advanced to the NCAA tournament as the six-seed and traveled to Boston to take on the third-seed Boston University. Meghan Agosta's two goals were not enough to lift the Lakers as they fell, 4-2 after a third period rally by the Terriers.
The Lakers exited the 2012 tournament in the first round at the hands of Wisconsin. In 2013 Mercyhurst traveled to Ithaca, and upset Cornell, 4-3 in overtime. They advanced to the Frozen Four in Minneapolis, but fell in the semi-finals to Boston University.
In 2014 the Lakers earned their tenth-straight at-large bid, making them the first team in NCAA Division-I history to earn a spot in the tournament for ten-straight years.
The conference's prominence on a national stage has been cemented by the accomplishments and accolades accumulated by College Hockey America players.
In 2007 Meghan Agosta became the first CHA player to be a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, which is given annually to the best player in NCAA Division I women's ice hockey, as voted by a national panel. Agosta would finish in the top three in voting in all four of her collegiate seasons.
In 2008, Wayne State's Melissa Boal was also a top-ten finalist for the Kazmaier award along with Agosta. The same season, College Hockey America claimed the top four scorers in the nation in terms of points per game in Boal (2.16), Agosta (1.97), and Wayne State's Sam Poyton (1.94) and Lindsay DiPietro (1.88). Agosta led the nation with 40 goals and seven short-handed markers, while DiPietro had an NCAA-best 48 assists.
In 2009 CHA Player of the Year Meghan Agosta led the NCAA in points per game (2.44/78 in 32 games), goals per game (1.28/41 in 32 games), assists per game (1.16/37 in 32 games) and game-winning goals (10), while finishing second nationally with 14 power-play goals.
In 2010, Mercyhurst's Vicki Bendus became the first CHA player to win the Patty Kazmaier Award.
Agosta returned to Mercyhurst for her senior season after taking a year off to train and compete for Canada in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where she won her second gold medal. She led the nation in points per game (2.53) and total assists (48) and was third in total goals (38) in 34 games that season.
College Hockey America again claimed two of the top-10 finalists for the 2011 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award in Bendus and Agosta, who became a top-three finalist for the fourth time in her collegiate career.
That same season, Robert Morris senior Whitney Pappas was a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award. The Hockey Humanitarian Award is awarded annually to college hockey's finest citizen and seeks to recognize college hockey players at all levels who give back to their communities in the true humanitarian spirit. The award seeks "not to celebrate Hall of Fame athletes, but rather Hall of Fame human beings."
Mercyhurst forward Bailey Bram was a top-10 finalist for the 2012 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. Bram finished second in the nation in points per game (2.12) and first in power play goals with 12 in 32 games. Mercyhurst had a top 10 finalist for the award every season from 2007-12. On Thursday, February 27 Christine Bestland was named to a finalist for the 2014 Patty Kazmaier award. The Lakers' senior captain recorded 20 goals and 30 assists in the regular season, leading the Lakers to the regular season title.
Alumni in the Olympics
Agosta, four-time CHA Player of the Year, just earned her third Olympic gold medal for Canada in with 2014 Sochi Olympics. Former Colonial player and assistant coach Brianne McLaughlin earned her second silver medal as one of three goaltenders for Team USA, and Stefanie Marty, a member of the inaugural Division I team at Syracuse, and the program's first captain, help her native Switzerland bring home the country's first Olympic hockey medal since World War II.
CHA Tournament History
|2007||Mercyhurst||4-1||Wayne State||Pittsburgh, PA|
|2008||Mercyhurst||2-1 (OT)||Wayne State||Lewiston, N.Y.|
|2009||Mercyhurst||6-1||Wayne State||Erie, PA|
|2012||Robert Morris||3-2||Mercyhurst||Pittsburgh, PA|
|2014||RIT||2-1 (2-OT)||Mercyhurst||Erie, PA|
* – Prior to 2013, the tournament site was predetermined, not awarded to the regular season championship.
NCAA Tournament History
|2005||Mercyhurst||Harvard||Loss, 4-5 (3-OT)|
|2006||Mercyhurst||Wisconsin||Loss, 1-2 (2-OT)|
|2007||Mercyhurst||Minnesota-Duluth||Loss, 2-3 (OT)|
Win, 5-4 (Frozen Four)
Loss, 0-5 (National Final)
|2011||Mercyhurst||Boston University||Loss, 2-4|
Win, 4-3 (OT)
Loss, 1-4 (Frozen Four)