Women’s hockey: Death of a dynasty?

Morgan Stacey, Contributing writer

In the world of sports, few can identify for certain when a dynasty has begun but nearly everyone can pinpoint the exact moment when one has ended.

For instance, think back to July 11, 2014. In one of the most infamous announcements in NBA history, LeBron James signed with the Cavaliers, agreeing to return to Cleveland, and in an instant ended the “Big Three” dynasty in Miami.

The life cycle of a dynasty, thus, is clear in retrospect. Beginning with the birth of a dynasty, a team experiences a prolonged period of increasing success, preceded by a period of ultra-supreme status, which is followed by their imminent fall.

At the first inkling of their demise, sports analysts euphemistically label the season as a “rebuilding year,” a slap in the face to any team, and begin looking for the replacement dynasty.

Unfortunately for the Mercyhurst women’s ice hockey team, the mention of rebuilding seems to have come before any recognition of their 17-year dynasty in the making.

After gaining Division 1 varsity status in the 1999-2000 season, 17 years ago, the program has garnered unparalleled status as one of collegiate hockey’s most respected and revered programs.

With 15 consecutive College Hockey America (CHA) conference championships, 12 CHA playoff championships, 11 NCAA tournament appearances, four Frozen Four appearances, and a 2009 national runner-up title, the distinction of dynasty is well deserved.

But now all of that history is on the line.

With the most losses in a single season and being unranked in the national polls for a record 36 consecutive weeks, the warning signs of the dynasty’s death seem all too evident.

Heading into the weekend of Jan. 20, Mercyhurst was well aware of what was at stake: the chance at conference title, a shot to get back in the national ranking polls and the opportunity to regain respect for their program.

In what would be a grueling two game series against the league leading, nationally 7th ranked, cross town rival Robert Morris, Mercyhurst came up short in both games.

The Friday night match-up of the series featured a low scoring, highly physical game, in which Mercyhurst was able to force overtime after netting the equalizer with exactly one minute remaining in the final period.

Unfortunately, one point was all Mercyhurst would get on the scoreboard and in the standings, as Robert Morris clinched the game winner, just two and a half minutes into sudden death overtime.

Hoping to fare better in Saturday’s match-up, Mercyhurst exploded with a three goal effort. Plagued by penalty trouble, however, they were unable to withstand Robert Morris’s offensive onslaught. The game ended in a 3-3 tie.

In a weekend with four critical points up for grabs in the CHA standings, Mercyhurst collected just one.

So then, with another disappointing weekend series in the books, the question must be posed: is this the year? The year that will end the dynasty and flip a symbolic page in the record books?

Statistics analysts and common sense all indicate, yes: the death of the dynasty is imminent. Thankfully for Mercyhurst, statistics analysts,and common sense count for nothing on the ice.

As likely as the death of their dynasty, a historically poor season up to this point could be the foundation for a miracle in the making. With the change in the CHA post-season format, which now permits all six league teams into the playoff tournament, Mercyhurst will automatically qualify for a playoff seed.

In other words, they will still have a chance to compete for both the CHA playoff title and a bid to the NCAA tournament. The chance at a championship is slim, yes. But would I count them out? Absolutely not.

A dynasty is a dynasty for a reason.  Teams perform best in the moments that matter the most. Pressure is nothing new and the will to become champions is far from foreign. With history on their side and fate in their hands, it is simply up to the Mercyhurst women’s ice hockey team to decide whether their dynasty will continue to stand.