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2020-21 NCAA Preview: College Hockey America, part 2

How will the season unfold for last season’s top 3 CHA teams?

Robert Morris forward Michaela Boyle celebrates a goal against Penn State on Nov. 2, 2019. Justin Berl/RMU Athletics

Here’s a look at the season ahead for Mercyhurst, Robert Morris, and Syracuse, last year’s top-half finishers in College Hockey America.

Mercyhurst

Key Losses:

  • Emma Nuutinen, F: Named CHA Player of the Year last year and led the squad with 21 goals and 40 points.
  • Maggie Knott, F: Finished fourth on the team with 28 points and one of the Lakers’ best players in the faceoff circle (402 wins, 58.8%).
  • Michele Robillard, F: Scored 15 goals and added nine assists as a senior.
  • Sam Isbell, D: Finished third on the team with 31 points and first with 25 assists.
  • Kennedy Blair, G: Transferred for her senior season but was a three-year starter for the Lakers and posted a .921 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average as a junior.

Key Returners:

  • Summer-Rae Dobson, Senior, F: Put together a strong junior season, scoring 36 points, good for second on the squad.
  • Alexa Vasko, Senior, F: One of Mercyhurst’s most reliable players in all situations; scored 27 points as a junior and also led with 455 faceoff wins (58.6%).
  • Emily Pinto, Junior, F: Talented forward who notched 23 points last season.
  • K.K. Thiessen, Senior, D: Posted 17 points from the blue line, good for second among defenders; led the team with 77 blocked shots.
  • Rachel Marmen, Senior, D: Scored 16 points as a junior and chipped in 60 blocks.
  • Jenna Silvonen, Sophomore, G: A prospect within Finland’s national team program, started seven games as a rookie and posted a .913 save percentage and 2.13 GAA.

Season Outlook:

The Lakers have a few holes to fill at every position, meaning they’ll need some of their younger players to really step up in order to defend their CHA title. In net, the loss of Blair hurts, but I would expect to see a little more consistency from Silvonen this year with her rookie year under her belt. Defensively, they’re losing a standout player in Isbell. Thiessen and Marmen are both experienced defenders who can shoulder a lot of the workload, but they’re thin on depth behind them. I think Mercyhurst’s D corps will be steady overall, but they’re not likely to see a ton of flash or major offensive contributions from this group.

They also graduate Nuutinen up front, a player who isn’t easily replaced, and Knott, who generated plenty of scoring opportunities. But Dobson pieced together a really good season last year and will look to lead the way offensively. Vasko is a strong all-around player who could chip in a bit more as well, and there’s a good amount of skill in Pinto’s game. Rookies like Sara Boucher and Paige Whaley also have potential. I’m just not sure the Lakers have the pieces here to make up for the production they’re losing, and with Robert Morris right on their heels they don’t have a very wide margin for error.

Robert Morris

Key Losses:

  • Jaycee Gebhard, F: One of the country’s most prolific scorers last year; led the squad with 43 assists and 63 total points.
  • Natalie Marcuzzi, F: A reliable center who posted 15 points, good for seventh, and won 288 draws (52.7%).
  • Sarah Lecavalier, D: Scored 22 points, good for fifth on the squad, and added 66 blocked shots.

Key Returners:

  • Lexi Templeman, Senior, F: Scored 11 goals and 44 points as a junior.
  • Michaela Boyle, Redshirt Junior, F: Notched a team-leading 22 goals and finished the year with 29 points.
  • Anjelica Diffendal, Senior, F: Scored 18 points last season, good for sixth on the club.
  • Maggy Burbidge, Sophomore, F: Tallied 15 points as a rookie.
  • Emily Curlett, Senior, D: An excellent two-way defender who scored 17 goals and 36 points (third among RMU players) and led the team with 142 blocked shots.
  • Emilie Harley, Senior, D: Tallied 15 points from the blue line, eight of which came on the power play last year.
  • Raygan Kirk, Sophomore, G: Posted a .925 save percentage and 2.05 GAA as a rookie in net, earning 26 starts.

Season Outlook:

Like Mercyhurst, the Colonials are losing their best player and a truly dynamic scoring presence in Gebhard. Coupled with the loss of Marcuzzi, they’re going to be a bit thin up the middle and will need some players to step up and fill those gaps. There is still plenty of talent throughout this roster, though, starting with their remaining forwards. Boyle burst back onto the scene last year to become a goal-scoring threat night in and night out, and Templeman is a highly skilled forward who can help steer the offense. Diffendal and Burbidge should be big contributors as well.

I’m a big fan of Kirk and, after a strong freshman season, I think she can be even better and become a true shutdown option in net. Curlett is one of the best defenders in the entire NCAA; there are very few players who are as effective as she is at both ends. While losing Lecavalier certainly hurts, RMU’s D corps should be in good shape with her and Harley leading the way and players like Wasyn Rice and Gillian Thompson helping to keep things steady. Robert Morris is a perennial contender for the CHA crown and I think this group has the edge over Mercyhurst this year.

Syracuse

Key Losses:

  • Savannah Rennie, F: Finished third on the Orange with 23 points as a senior.
  • Kelli Rowswell, F: Tallied nine goals and 16 points last season, and also added 107 shots on goal.
  • Anonda Hoppner, F: Scored 11 points last season and turned in some big playoff performances throughout her career.
  • Lindsay Eastwood, D: A standout on the blue line who was named CHA Defender of the Year as a senior, led the squad with 20 assists, and tied for first with 28 points.
  • Ady Cohen, G: Played in 15 games last year and posted an .891 save percentage and 2.76 GAA.

Key Returners:

  • Abby Moloughney, Junior, F: Led the team with 10 goals and 28 points.
  • Emma Polaski, Senior, F: Posted nine goals and 19 points as a junior and led the squad with 128 shots on goal.
  • Victoria Klimek, Senior, F: Mirrored Polaski’s point totals last season.
  • Lauren Bellefontaine, Junior, F: Won more faceoffs than anyone else on the squad (377 wins, 54.5%) and also notched 19 points as a sophomore.
  • Jessica DiGirolamo, Senior, D: Tied for third on the team with 23 points as a junior; led the squad with 71 blocks.
  • Mae Batherson, Sophomore, D: Had a really good rookie season, scoring 22 points from the blue line and finishing fifth overall on the team.
  • Allison Small, Senior, G: Started the bulk of the games last year for the Orange and posted a .921 save percentage and 2.24 GAA.

Season Outlook:

The Orange lose two key players but return a good chunk of their core from last season. While the loss of Eastwood on the blue line stings, they have two of the brightest defenders in the NCAA in DiGirolamo and Batherson to lead the way this season. They’re also adding Kambel Beacom to the mix, who should be able to make an impact as a rookie. Syracuse is a team that typically relies on its defenders to be active, and I would expect their D corps to play a big role as usual this year. Allison Small should provide stability in net, too.

While Syracuse lacked any point-per-game scorers in 2019-20, they had a relatively long list of players contributing offensively. They lose some of that depth with Rennie, Rowswell, and Hoppner graduating, but Moloughney had an excellent sophomore year and Bellefontaine looks ready to shine as a top center for this team. They’re also bringing in Tatum White and Sarah Thompson, who both have U18 experience with Team Canada, while classmate Rayla Clemons is off to a strong start offensively. Overall, they return a good amount of experienced players who contributed to Syracuse’s CHA championship run in 2019, and add some talented pieces. They should be firmly in the top half of the conference.