Best College Hockey Programs

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Best College Hockey Programs

Ice hockey is a popular sport among colleges and is played principally in the United States and Canada. However, leagues do exist outside of North America. In America, competitive “college hockey” refers to ice hockey played among colleges and universities within the governance structures of organizations like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In Canada, the same term refers to small college and community college ice hockey that currently consists of a varsity conference like the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) and a club league like the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL). University hockey is a term primarily used for teams at four-year institutions, and this level of the sport is governed by U Sports.

The NCAA has conducted national championships for men’s ice hockey since 1948 and women’s ice hockey since 2001. Unless the players are deemed eligible for NCAA competition by the NCAA Eligibility Center, US ice hockey players cannot participate in these tournaments. There is a process that examines a student’s-athlete’s academic qualifications and amateur status. Players who participated in the Canadian Hockey League or any professional hockey leagues are considered ineligible. There are around 138 colleges and universities sponsoring men’s hockey in the NCAA’s three divisions.

Following are some of the best college hockey programs within the United States of America:

Minnesota State University – Mavericks

The Minnesota State Mavericks are sports teams of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and hundreds of students participate in athletics each year by using the name of Mavericks. Most of the sports teams compete at the NCAA Division II level in the NSIC. However, the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams compete at the Division I level in the WCHA. Minnesota State University has won 49 individual and six team national championships. The combined efforts of all athletic teams have won the University the NSIC US Bank All-Sports Award four times. Since 1993, the Minnesota State Mavericks have been awarded the most National Championships out of all 16 colleges and universities in the NSU.

Moreover, this team also participate in Division II Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup national competition. Generally, this program is divided into eight men’s sports and ten women’s sports teams. The men’s sports teams include golf, ice hockey, baseball, basketball, cross country, football, track and field, and wrestling. The women’s teams include softball, swimming and diving, tennis, basketball, cross country, golf, ice hockey, soccer, track and field, and volleyball. Additionally, MSU’s athletics program includes the marching band called the Maverick Machine, competitive dance, and non-competitive cheerleading. Minnesota State’s worthwhile participation involves the Division I level in both women’s and men’s hockey. The team practices at the All Seasons Arena and plays at the Verizon Wireless Center.

University of Massachusetts – UMass Minutemen

University of Massachusetts’s athletic program is called UMass Minutemen. Their Ice Hockey team is known to be part of the NCAA Division I men’s college ice hockey program that represents the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The UMass Minutemen are a member of Hockey East and play at the 8,387-seat William D. Mullins Memorial Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. The pond on the University of Massachusetts campus was once used for many purposes, and in winter, students and faculty would cut out blocks of ice to use for refrigeration. They also organized annual tug-of-war games between first-year students and sophomores that were hosted during the spring months.

The first formal ice hockey team started playing on the pond in 1909 as well where UMass fielded one of the earliest non-ivy league programs. They played continually until poor weather conditions and a lack of funding caused the team to cease in 1939. Until 1954, the UMass Minutemen were unable to play at home even though they could return to the ice after the war. Nevertheless, this lack of a home venue caused the team to suffer and win only two games over a seven-year period. At some point, the pond became usable again, and UMass played home games with new head coach Steve Kosakowski. In 2021, the Minutemen won their first-ever NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament, beating the St. Cloud State Huskies.

St. Cloud State University – St. Cloud State Huskies

St. Cloud State University’s athletic program is named St. Cloud State Huskies. The University is generally a member of the NSIC and currently sponsors eighteen NCAA Division II teams. SCSU has also sponsored a women’s Nordic Skiing team through membership in the CCSA along with men’s and women’s Division I ice hockey teams that are members of the NCHC (men) and WCHA (women). All the sports team under this program goes by the nickname Huskies, and the school has a husky named Blizzard as a mascot. Heather Weems is currently acting as the Director of Athletics for St. Cloud State University. In 1932, St. Cloud State was a charter member of the Northern Intercollegiate Conference that later became the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. This University has also competed as a member of the North Central Conference at the NCAA Division II level from 1982 to 2008.

After the North Central Conference was disbanded at the end of the 2007-08 academic year, St. Cloud State’s NCAA Division II sports once again became members of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in 2008-09. The St. Cloud State University’s Huskies men’s ice hockey team is an NCAA Division I college ice hockey program and a member of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. They usually play at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

University of North Dakota – North Dakota Fighting Hawks

University of North Dakota’s North Dakota Fighting Hawks were formerly known as the Fighting Sioux. They are the athletic teams that represent the University located in the city of Grand Forks, North Dakota. At first in the Division II North Central Conference, UND began transitioning to NCAA’s Division I in 2008 with the football program participating in Division I FCS. North Dakota is a member of the Summit League, an FCS independent in football and the NCHC for men’s hockey.

The Fighting Hawks teams have competed in the Western Athletic Conference in baseball, plus men’s and women’s swimming & diving, before dropping all three sports. In 2017, reports stated that North Dakota would leave the Big Sky Conference to join the Summit League in all sports, but football beginning in 2019. The college’s ice hockey team is located at the Grand Forks campus of the University of North Dakota. They are members of the NCHC and compete in NCAA Division I ice hockey. North Dakota is broadly regarded as a premier college hockey school and has one of the most storied programs in NCAA history. UND has appeared in the Frozen Four 22 times, made over 30 appearances in the NCAA tournament, and has won 8 NCAA Division I Championships. The program has also achieved fifteen WCHA Regular Season Championships, four NCHC Regular Season Championships, and twelve Conference Tournament Championships.

University of Minnesota Duluth – Bulldogs

University of Minnesota Duluth’s Bulldogs is an NCAA Division I college ice hockey program. They are also a member of the NCHC and plays home games at the 6,800-seat AMSOIL Arena at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. The Bulldogs program has produced many NHL players such as Glenn ‘Chico’ Resch, Jim Johnson, Tom Kurvers, Dave Langevin, and Bob Mason. The best-known alumni of this program are probably the Hockey Hall of Fame member Brett Hull along with Mark Pavelich and John Harrington, both of whom were members of the Miracle on Ice gold-medal-winning 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team.

In 2011, the Bulldogs defeated the University of Michigan to win its first NCAA Division I Championship, and in 2018, UMD captured its second national championship with a win over the University of Notre Dame. In 2019, they won their third championship with a win over the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The 2010-2011 season marked a historic year for the UMD program, and December 2010 is when the Bulldogs moved into the new 6,800-seat AMSOIL Arena located at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. In 2011, this team earned an at-large NCAA Tournament bid and reached the Frozen Four for the fourth time in the school’s history with wins over Union College and Yale University.

University of Minnesota – Minnesota Golden Gophers

University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers is an athletic program that has a men’s hockey team located at the Twin Cities campus of the University. Moreover, this team is a member of the Big Ten Conference and competes in NCAA Division I ice hockey tournaments. They have won five National championships between 1974 and 2003, and they have even shared the 1929 NIAA championship with Yale. In 1940, they captured the national AAU championship for amateur hockey.

The Golden Gophers are currently coached by Bob Motzko. This team earned a spot in the NCAA tournament in eight seasons under Don Lucia during a nine-year time span, which includes five number one seeds and three appearances in the Frozen Four. The Golden Gophers’ main rivalries are with the University of North Dakota and the University of Wisconsin. However, several other schools have announced themselves as Minnesota’s archrivals. They have a lot of history behind their ice hockey team, and there has been a strong emphasis on recruiting native Minnesotan high school and junior hockey players, as opposed to out-of-state, Canadian, or European players. This has helped high school ice hockey become popular in Minnesota, starting with Hall of Famer John Mariucci, who refused to recruit players from Canada. Minnesota’s high school ice hockey programs, have grown significantly since this rule was implemented among its college athletes.

Boston College – Eagles

Boston College’s Eagles are a Division I college hockey program representing the college in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Since 1984, this team has competed in Hockey East and have previously played in the ECAC. Boston’s Eagles have won five national championships in total, and the most recent one was in 2012. Home games used to be played at Kelley Rink at Conte Forum, named after a coach, John “Snooks” Kelley. The Eagles are currently coached by former Eagles forward Jerry York, and he has won the most games of any head coach in NCAA hockey history. He surpassed Ron Mason’s 924th win on December 29, 2012, and York is an alumnus of Boston College, a member of the class of 1967.

Boston College has one of the top college hockey programs in the United States. They used to field a team from 1917 to 1929, but school officials dropped hockey as a cost-cutting measure in the wake of the Great Depression. The modern era of hockey on the Heights started when formed player John “Snooks” Kelley agreed to coach a small team of BC students who formed a team midway through the 1932–33 season. Apart from a short break during WW2, Kelley led the Eagles until 1972. To date, BC has won 13 conference tournament titles, including 11 Hockey East titles, a conference record. Their most recent triumph in 2012 came after beating Maine 4–1 in the championship game.

University of Wisconsin – Badgers

University of Wisconsin’s Badgers is the men’s ice hockey team representing UoW – Madison. The team plays at the Kohl Center, where they are coached by Tony Granato. The UoW’s Badgers ice hockey team competes in the Big Ten Conference and has won three WCHA regular-season conference titles and 11 conference tournament titles. Along with that, they have made twenty-four appearances in the NCAA men’s ice hockey tournament, advancing to the Frozen Four 12 times. The team’s six national titles are the fourth-best in college hockey history, and their most recent national championship came in 2006 when the Badgers defeated the Boston College Eagles at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 2003, Eaves brought the Badgers just short of the Frozen Four, falling in overtime to Maine in the 2004 NCAA Tournament. The Badgers returned to nationals by winning the 2006 NCAA championship in Milwaukee with a win over Boston College.

However, in 2010 they lost their seventh NCAA title to Boston College at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. In 2013, they won their last-ever appearance in WCHA final five before the team joined the Big Ten Hockey Conference for the 2013–14 season. In the opening season of the Big Ten Hockey Conference, the Badgers won the Big Ten Tournament, which was their second consecutive conference tournament championship.

University of Michigan – Wolverines

University of Michigan’s Wolverines is a men’s ice hockey team representing the University in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They earned their varsity status in 1922 when the program competed in 97 seasons. The team competed in the WCHA between 1959 and 1981 before joining the CCHA until the 2012–13 season. The Wolverines have completed in the Big Ten since the 2013-2014 season that began sponsoring hockey. The team played in 22 consecutive NCAA Men’s Division I Ice Hockey Tournaments from 1991 to 2012, which is an NCAA record. This team has won an NCAA-record nine Division I NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championships, and seven of them came during a 17-year stretch between 1948 and 1964. Two more championships were won under head coach Red Berenson in 1996 and 1998. Michigan Wolverines have had many successes as a program, including a record-setting number of championships, consecutive tournament appearances and total championship tournament appearances. In 2010, Michigan hosted a world record crowd of 113,000 in an event known as the Big Chill. Players from this program have earned professional championships, numerous honours, individual statistical championships, international championships, team and individual records. This team is currently coached by Mel Pearson, who is a former assistant to coach Red Berenson who retired in 2017 after leading the program for 33 years.

The University of Michigan ice hockey team,5-4 OT victory over Michigan State University in the “Dual in the D” at Joe Louis in Detroit, MI on February 10, 2017

Bemidji State University – Beavers

Bemidji State University’s Beavers program has a men’s ice hockey team that is a part of the NCAA Division I college ice hockey program. The Beavers are also a member of the WCHA and play at Sanford Center in Bemidji, Minnesota. Also, as of the 2010 season, after previously playing at the John S. Glas Field House. This program began in 1946, and from the inaugural 1946-47 season through the 1966-67 season, BSU played as an independent member of Division I. Since then, this program has majorly evolved in various aspects. In 2008, the Bemidji team began exploring options to strengthen the program. BSU began looking at the WCHA as a solution for their concerns, and as a first step, the University signed a scheduling agreement against WCHA schools, many within a few hours drive to Bemidji, Minnesota. Other than the WCHA, BSU’s only option was to end the historic program, and so they announced the project to build a 4,000-5,000 seat state-of-the-art arena to meet WCHA requirements. BSU, along with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, was accepted into the WCHA as the 11th and 12th members. BSU officially became a member on July 1, 2010, and opened a new play in the newly opened Bemidji Regional Events Center on October 15, 2010, against North Dakota. Bemidji picked up their first WCHA win at St. Cloud State and ended the regular season with a conference record of 8-15-5 as the 10th seed entering the 2011 WCHA Tournament.

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