Women’s Hockey poised to ice new conference

Doug Manners

The Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey team is thrilled to have a conference to call home, even if it will only be for a year. After playing the past two years as an independent team, the Bobcats will compete in the College Hockey America (CHA) conference this season.

And although the team will be leaving the CHA to join the ECAC in 2005-2006, the Bobcats have plenty of reasons to be excited about being a CHA conference member when they open the 2004-2005 season on Saturday against the University of Vermont. For starters, the Bobcats will have a postseason tournament and league title to play for.

“Being independent, you can go undefeated, but your season is going to end on such-and-such a date and you don’t have a trophy to show for it,” head coach Michael Barrett said. “To have that motivation to play for both of those, I think is going to be a huge difference for the players.”

The Bobcats join Mercyhurst, Niagara and Wayne State in the CHA. In the coaches’ preseason poll, the teams were predicted to finish from first to third in that order. Quinnipiac was selected to finish in last-place, but that did not surprise Barrett, who enters his third season as head coach.

“We didn’t beat any of those teams [from the CHA] last season, so why would anybody vote us higher,” Barrett said. “At the same time, we don’t feel that we can’t beat anyone, nor do I believe that the other teams are looking past us.”

Quinnipiac went 0-5 last season against this year’s CHA opponents, but all of those games were played on the road, and only one was decided by more than two goals. This season, the Bobcats will play each of their CHA rivals four times, twice at home and twice on the road.

The Bobcats are guaranteed a berth in the CHA postseason tournament as all four teams automatically qualify. The tournament will be played at Mercyhurst’s arena in Erie, PA, and all games will be single-elimination. In other words, it only takes a couple wins in the tournament to win the CHA title, which Barrett says the Bobcats have a realistic chance of competing for.

Entering its fourth season as a varsity program, the women’s hockey team has improved its record every year, and the Bobcats will look to continue that trend this season despite a tougher schedule.
“Just because we’re an up-and-coming program and we want to challenge ourselves every year, we’ve taken our non-conference schedule and tried to make it more demanding,” Barrett said.

In January, the Bobcats will play a pair of homes games against Wisconsin, who was ranked sixth in the nation last year in the final USCHO.com poll. CHA rival Mercyhurst is also another formidable opponent having been ranked seventh in the nation last season and losing only one game in the CHA’s two years of existence.

Last season, several players had breakout seasons for Quinnipiac, including now-sophomore Vicky Graham, of Glen Riddle, PA, who shattered the team’s single-season scoring record with 29 points in 34 games played. This year’s senior captain, Caitlin Peters, of Minneapolis, MN, as well as senior assistant captains Gillian Gallagher, of Monteville, NJ, and Jayne Riley, of Kentwood, MI, also had career years numbers-wise.

Barrett expects those players to do just as well this season. The team will also add five new players – two forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender – all of which he calls impact players. The addition of those players will give the Bobcats the greatest depth the team has ever had according to Barrett.

The team will hit the ice this weekend for their first games of the season. The Bobcats play an exhibition game on Friday, and then kick-off their regular season schedule on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. against Vermont at the Northford Ice Pavilion. And when the Bobcats do step on to the ice this year, they will be playing for more than pride – they will be playing for a championship.