2017-18 NCAA preview: CHA

Robert Morris looks like they'll repeat as CHA champs, but is the battle for second closer than it looks?

Of all the conferences in the NCAA, it sometimes feels like the CHA is the one that's overlooked the most.

It really shouldn't be; the CHA is getting more competitive every year, and with RMU on the rise and teams like Syracuse and Mercyhurst not far back, it's going to be an interesting season in the conference.

Last year’s standings (conference play)

  1. Robert Morris University - 32 points (15-3-2)
  2. Syracuse - 30 points (14-4-2)
  3. Mercyhurst - 23 points (11-8-1)
  4. Penn State - 18 points (10-8-2)
  5. RIT - 10 points (4-14-2)
  6. Lindenwood 7 points (3-16-1)

Look Back at Last Season

Robert Morris had one of the most dangerous scoring lines in the CHA, and as a result finished at the top of the standings, though Syracuse was close behind.

RMU was also the only team in the CHA to qualify for the Frozen Four tournament, winning the CHA title after topping Lindenwood 2-1 in the semifinals and then shutting out Syracuse 2-0 to seal the deal after Syracuse qualified for the final in a 4-0 game against RIT.

But that was the end of the road for any CHA team in the playoffs; RMU went up against powerhouse Wisconsin in the first round, and the Badgers put up a touchdown against the Colonials in a 7-0 game. Wisconsin would continue all the way to the Frozen Four Final before losing the championship to Clarkson.

Top Teams Prediction

  1. Robert Morris University
  2. Mercyhurst
  3. Syracuse

We don't think there's going to be any change in the top three schools who rule this conference - RMU, Syracuse and Mercyhurst are still going to reign supreme in the CHA.

As far as the conference champs go, there's nobody who's going to dethrone RMU this year. The Colonials are getting their entire top line back and though they lose starting netminder Jessica Dodds, expect Lauren Bailey to take control of the crease this year and help backstop RMU to victory.

We do, however, expect there to be some jostling in positions between Mercyhurst and Syracuse, and wouldn't be surprised if the Lakers surged into second in conference standings this year. They finished just seven points behind Syracuse last year, easily within striking distance (more on why they'll move up in the next section).

Dark Horse: Make way for the Lakers

Does it count as a dark horse if the team we pick is technically in our top three?

Looking at last year's standings, it seems fair to say that RMU and Syracuse will be battling for the title again this year. But that may actually be misleading. We'll be keeping our eyes on Mercyhurst, because looking past the standings, this is a team that could make some noise this year.

Last year's Lakers were frequently in the top of the team leaderboards - Brooke Hartwick was third in shots on goal with 142 and also in power play goals with seven, and Morgan Stacey and Paige Horton were second and third, respectively, in blocked shots (63 and 60).

But perhaps what gives Mercyhurst an edge this year is two new transfers from UND: Emma Nuutinen and Vilma Tanskanen, both members of Finland's national team. With UND's program no longer in existence, the two Finns transferred from the always tough WCHA to the CHA. Both Nuutinen and Taskanen will be able to make immediate impacts for the Lakers; both are used to playing against top-level competition in both the WCHA and internationally.

Players to Watch

Amber Rennie, Brittany Howard, and Jaycee Gebhard (junior/redshirt senior/sophomore, forwards, RMU)

These are technically three players to watch, but for all intents and purposes, they're RMU's three-headed monster. Last year, Rennie, Howard, and Gebhard were the Colonial's top line and they caused havoc in the CHA; Gebhard led the conference in goals (21) and Howard topped the charts for assists (27).

And all three are back this season for RMU. Gebhard will be a sophomore, Rennie is now a junior and Howard is a redshirt-senior. Look out, CHA.

Allie Munroe (junior, defender, Syracuse)

Munroe was the Defender of the Year in the CHA and will be the cornerstone of Syracuse's blue line yet again. She also led all defenders in the CHA in scoring, averaging .69 points per game.

Kendall Corinne (junior, forward, RIT)

Corinne led RIT in goals (12) and was sixth in the CHA in goal-scoring. She could increase that number this year if she can improve her shooting percentage; she was fourth in the conference in total shots as well with 133.

Brooke Hartwick (senior, forward, Mercyhurst)

Hartwick was third in the CHA in assists (19) and fourth in goals (17), leading her team in both categories. If she can keep up that pace in her senior season, she'll likely be another top scorer in the CHA this year.

Abbey Miller (senior, goalie, Syracuse)

Miller was named the CHA's Goaltender of the Year last season, and for good reason: she had the lowest GAA in the conference with a 1.50 and a .925 save percentage. She's likely to be the top goaltender in the conference again this year, especially with the graduation of RMU's Jessica Dodds.

Five Series You Need to Watch

RMU v. Mercyhurst, December 1

It's last year's champs against our pick for the dark horse team of the conference. Of course this is one of our to-watch series.

Syracuse v. Mercyhurst, December 8

Depending on how the season plays out, we think this could be a key conference match-up too as fans look to see how the conference shakes out. It'll be a tough couple of weeks for Mercyhurst, who play the No. 1 and No. 2 teams from last season in back-to-back weeks, but that's what will make the games even more exciting.

RMU v. Syracuse, January 5

Syracuse seeks revenge on the team that shut them out in the conference title game last year. #vengeance

Lindnwood v. South Korea Olympic team

This gives fans who make it down to Lindenwood a chance to see the South Korean team a month before they go to the Olympic games, and one of the only times North American fans can watch the team live.

RMU v. Ohio State

I'm going to be real here, this one is purely me indulging myself. It's not a conference matchup, but I have a hunch that OSU is going to surprise a lot of people this year. RMU's top offensive line against Ohio's netminder Kassidy Sauve? Yes please.

Season in three sentences #hottakes

RMU is the team to beat again this year, but keep an eye on Mercyhurst. We don't think they can top RMU this year, but...hockey's an unpredictable game, and this may be a surprising season in the CHA.