Women's hockey welcomes record numbers

The Mercyhurst Women’s Hockey team has added a record nine freshman and three transfers from Niagara University. Niagara University cut its women’s hockey program after the 2011-2012 season; eliminating themselves from the College Hockey America (CHA). After Niagara’s withdrawal, the CHA added Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Penn State and Lidenwood.

The 2011-2012 Laker squad entered only seven freshman and two transfers from Wayne State after their program was also cut.

The Lakers will begin the season ranked tenth in the Division I preseason poll, according USCHO.com. Twelve returners line the roster alongside the 12 newcomers. The Lakers lost six seniors to graduation last season. Among these seniors were Patty Kazmaier, top ten finalist Bailey Bram (201 career points), Kelley Steadman (53 season points) and Jess Jones (48 season points).

Despite losing key seniors, Head Coach Michael Sisti is excited about the incoming talent.

“We have a lot of roles to be filled, but my expectations are the same with this class as any other class,” Sisti said. “This group is eager to learn and become the best team we can be.”

Junior captain Christine Bestland equally feels the excitement with this class.

“We are underestimated which gives us more determination to prove ourselves this year,” said Bestland.

Both Bestland and Sisti agree this team will flourish with leadership from upperclassmen.

“Our freshman know how much pride there is in our program even before getting here,” said Sisti. The Hurst finished last season with a 23-8-3 overall record and made an appearance, for the eighth consecutive season, in the NCAA postseason tournament. The Lakers won 20 games for the 12th time in the 13-year history of the program, and also won the conference regular season title for the 12th consecutive season.

In addition to the freshman newcomers, three transfers from Niagara bring college hockey familiarity.

“[The transfers] bring college hockey experience which also brings confidence,” said Sisti. “They know Mercyhurst’s reputation and they are excited to be a part of this program.”

Kaleigh Chippy, junior transfer from Niagara, knows the respect other members of the CHA have for Mercyhurst and its prominent program, and is excited to be a member of this year’s team.

“I felt great about coming here knowing the repute of the program,” said Chippy. “Niagara prepared me to play at this level, and I’m ready to win at Mercyhurst.”

There are two words on everyone’s mind in the locker room: Frozen Four. Sisti thinks it is within reach for this team, but they need to win. The margin of error is smaller than in years past, as he indicated the team will not get an automatic bid to the NCAA postseason tournament.

The Lakers open up the 2012-2013 campaign with an exhibition contest vs. Stony Creek, Sept. 22 at 3 p.m. at the Mercyhurst Ice Center.