In the nascent history of the CWHL Draft, a large source for its talent has emanated from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. One of the aspects of any sporting league’s amateur draft is the quality of talent that emerges from a handful of schools. The respectable percentage of talent produced at a specific school also becomes a key recruiting aspect.
Many franchises in pro basketball have found their building blocks based on the superstars that were developed at Duke University and the University of North Carolina (notably Michael Jordan and James Worthy). While pro football has procured its talent from institutions such as Southern California, Notre Dame and Florida State. Mercyhurst has poised itself as one of the premier institutions of developing talent for the CWHL.
While the 2010 CWHL Draft was more of a restructuring, three former Lakers were among the top 12 picks. Ashley Pendleton (who competed in the 2010 and 2012 Clarkson Cup finals) went eighth overall to Brampton. Defender Michelle Bonello went tenth overall to the Toronto Furies, while high scoring defender Natalie Payne (who also played with Wayne State) was selected twelfth overall by Burlington. Other Lakers included Courtney Unruh (who finished her career with the York Lions of the CIS) going at 29 to Brampton, and Samantha Shirley at number 36 (going to the Burlington Barracudas).
The 2011 CWHL Draft resulted in three Lakers players (Meghan Agosta, Vicki Bendus, and Jesse Scanzano) being selected among the top five picks overall. Meghan Agosta (one of the greatest players of her generation) went first overall to the Montreal Stars. The acquisition immediately paid dividends as Agosta broke the league scoring record. Agosta would finish her rookie campaign by helping the Stars claim their third Clarkson Cup in four seasons. Ironically, Bendus would play against Agosta in the championship game of the Clarkson Cup.
Through no fault of her own, Bendus was placed in a bizarre situation. The Burlington Barracudas had the opportunity to draft her but traded the pick to the Brampton Thunder for the rights to Delaney Collins. After accepting a coaching position with Mercyhurst, Collins never played for Burlington. The end result was a one win season for Burlington, while Bendus helped Brampton compete for a Clarkson Cup.
Scanzano did not enjoy a high scoring season with the Toronto Furies. While she made appearances with the Canadian National Team, the highlight of her season was composed of a return to Mercyhurst. As a member of the Brampton Thunder for one day, Scanzano (along with former Lakers teammate Bendus) competed in a very rare NCAA vs. CWHL exhibition game. The Thunder bested the Lakers by a 3-1 score as Bailey Bram logged the only goal for Mercyhurst.
Hillary Pattenden (no stranger to making history) made some more history by becoming the first ever goaltender to be selected with the first overall pick in the CWHL Draft. The all-time wins leader among goaltenders in NCAA history, Pattenden was a key reason that the Lakers were a nationally ranked team during her four years there. Alberta selected her with the hope of being a long-term fixture between the pipes, while providing a consistent level of play that may bring the Clarkson Cup to Western Canada.
Bailey Bram was the eighth pick overall in the draft, going to a very talented Brampton team, while Kelley Steadman was selected twenty-fourth by the Boston Blades. As Bram helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2012 IIHF Women’s Worlds, she will be counted on to help a hungry Brampton squad win the Clarkson Cup. Although she has played with the likes of Agosta, Bendus, and Scanzano, she was the go-to player during the 2011-12 season, and finished in the top 10 in the NCAA scoring race. A tireless, unselfish player, Bram is one of the greatest to have every donned the blue, white and green of the Mercyhurst program.
Kelley Steadman, a member of the NCAA 100 point club, will be counted upon to provide offensive depth to a Boston Blades that relied far too often on one consistent line during the 2011-12 season. As a member of the United States national team, Steadman joins fellow national teamers Hilary Knight, Anne Schelper and Jen Schoullis as part of the Blades 2012 draft class. With Mercyhurst, Steadman enjoyed consistent production, while improving on her numbers on an annual basis. As a freshman, she logged 22 points. The following two seasons saw her point totals rise to 28 and 29 points, respectively. Her senior season saw her finest production, 33 goals, 20 assists and 53 points, all career highs.
While Bram, Pattenden and Steadman are poised to be impact players in the CWHL, the league is being cheated out of not having all of Mercyhurst’s seniors participate. Lakers captain Pamela Zgoda was a stoic, hard working, stay at home defender with a team first attitude. A member of the 2010 College Hockey America All-Academic Team, and 2011 CHA First Team All-Stars, Zgoda would have bolstered the blueline of any squad in the CWHL. Jill Szandzik (a transfer from defunct Wayne State) was another defender that played hard, while having a steady presence on the blueline. Jess Jones, a member of the NCAA 100-point club was a hardworking, reliable forward that was named to the 2009 College Hockey America All-Rookie Team and 2009 CHA All-Tournament Team, respectively.
While the cupboard is a little bare for the upcoming season at Mercyhurst, the future promises some great talent. Goaltender Amanda Makela (who represented Ontario at the 2011 Canada Winter Games) is the next in line to Hillary Pattenden as goaltender. Kristine Grenier is a competitive sniper from Manitoba that will ease the loss of so many seniors in 2012. Shleby Bram, younger sister of Bailey Bram, has competed with Canada’s national team at the Under 18 and Under 22 level. Molly Byrne is an offensive minded defender that led all CHA defenders in scoring as a freshman. Hailey Browne competed at the IIHF Under-18 women’s championships and has all the qualities of being a future captain. The aforementioned are all part of the Class of 2015 and they will help to cement Mercyhurst’s reputation as a school for developing elite hockey talent, while giving CWHL scouts plenty to look forward to.