Realignment is a term that has invaded the vocabulary of sports fans everywhere.
It took over the airwaves during the NFL lockout, beginning with all of the movement in college football in the past few months, and continues on into the season. Now it has invaded women’s hockey.
Mercyhurst College may be a smaller school, but realignment is everywhere, including Erie. The women’s hockey program has had a summer more interesting than usual.
First, they welcomed in a new batch of freshmen to reload after losing three of the top forwards in program history: Olympian Meghan Agosta, Patty Kazmaier award winner Vicki Bendus and No. 4 overall draft pick in the Canadian women’s league Jesse Scanzano.
Second, they said farewell to conference foe, Wayne State, which discontinued its women’s hockey program. The school cited a loss in state funds as the reason for the cut. Wayne State never truly matched up well against the Lakers, but the loss of Wayne State meant College Hockey America (CHA) was down to only four teams.
With only four teams, the CHA is even further away from meeting the NCAA minimum of six teams to qualify for an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Mercyhurst has been fortunate over the last few seasons in earning an at-large bid, but an automatic bid would make life considerably easier for the Lakers.
The biggest news of all came when Penn State officially announced they were joining the ranks of Division I women’s hockey. Geographically, Penn State is a perfect fit for the CHA.
Mercyhurst and the rest of the CHA accepted Penn State’s petition into the conference after a unanimous vote by the CHA board. The CHA is now back to five members but is looking for more.
CHA Commissioner Robert DeGregorio has been adamant about getting the conference up to the six-team mark. He has said on record that he would like the conference to eventually get to 10 teams.
With the addition of Penn State, Mercyhurst could face a stiffer conference schedule beginning in the 2012 season. To this point, Mercyhurst has dominated the conference, going undefeated last season, and has won nine straight conference titles.
With more than 42,000 undergraduate students and a propensity for having quality athletic teams, Penn State will likely surprise some in its inaugural season. Mercyhurst has already lost two men’s players who joined the new men’s team at Penn State; the question is whether they are only the beginning.
The women’s hockey team may have some new challenges to face ahead, but for now they are focused on the 2011-12 season, which begins with an exhibition against Wilfrid Laurier on Sept. 17.