MYHockey News

NCAA D1 Men & Women: Familiar Names & Faces in Familiar Places

By Scott Lowe –

NCAA College hockey is different from other intercollegiate sports. Anyone who has kids playing youth hockey with aspirations of advancing to that level is well aware of this.

The path to the NCAA level is just different for hockey players than it is for kids playing other sports. 

For the boys, nearly 90 percent of the players who advance to play NCAA Division I, II or III hockey are 20 or 21 years old when they enter college. The vast majority of them are expected to play anywhere from one to three years of junior hockey after their youth or high-school careers are over before NCAA hockey programs will consider bringing them on board. 

Of course, similar to other sports, there are young hockey players who commit to NCAA Division I programs as juniors in high school, but even most of those players are required by their future college teams to play juniors for as many as three of four years before adding them to their roster.

This often leads to schools “de-committing” players who either don’t develop physically or as players in the way the coaches had hoped for or expected. It also leads to most NCAA hockey teams having older and more mature student-athletes on their rosters than the other teams on campus. 

For the most part, the only true freshmen coming out of high school and immediately playing NCAA hockey are top NHL draft prospects who may be ready to play professionally before their eligibility expires. There are a few players at the Division III level who move directly from prep school to the college ranks, but that is a very small minority.

In addition, the advent of the transfer portal, which makes it much easier for players to move from one school to another, in recent years, and the ability for college student-athletes who were enrolled during the pandemic to play an extra year also have caused the average age of college athletes in all sports to skew older.

As a comparison, most women’s NCAA hockey players historically have moved right to the college level upon graduating from high school. But that also has started to change in recent years.

With more top players transferring from one power program to another – and top players in lower-level programs moving to stronger teams – as well as players taking their extra COVID year, more recruits have chosen to enroll for a postgrad year at a prep school or play an extra year at the youth or junior level instead of heading right to college.

The structure of girls’ youth hockey in North America makes this a relatively easy decision and transition for many players since there is a 19U division in the United States, while girls in Canada can play for U22 junior teams.

“It’s definitely changed since COVID,” Victoria Blake, now an assistant coach at the University of Vermont, said not long ago. “Since the players were granted that fifth year, a lot of the seniors have chosen to get started on their master’s {degrees} and take the graduate route. I think from our freshman class of seven or eight kids, maybe five of them chose to come to school after taking postgrad years. They’re all COVID kids who didn’t know what was going to happen when the world shut down. When the seniors came back, we pushed a lot of the freshmen back {a year}.” 

Men’s college hockey at the Division I level always has included a mix of programs from brand-name, traditional power-conference institutions and teams representing smaller schools from traditional hockey areas that may not compete at the D1 level in other sports.

Throughout the history of the sport, it has not been uncommon to see teams from schools with high-budget, big time athletic programs such as Michigan, Michigan State Minnesota and Wisconsin competing against schools like Denver, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State and Colorado College in the national tournament or even at the Frozen Four. 

We’ve even seen lesser-known schools that only compete at the Division I level in hockey such as Union College, Michigan Tech and Rennselaer capture national championships, while other programs such as St. Cloud State and Bemidji have come close. Schools like Denver, Boston University, Qunnipiac, Cornell, Bowling Green, Yale, Harvard and Maine, which compete at the mid-major D1 level in most sports, also have captured national championships.

Then there are smaller schools with larger athletic programs and more resources to put toward hockey such as Boston College and Providence that have won national titles.

In NCAA Division I men’s college hockey, based on national championships won, its pretty easy to see that Denver and Michigan, with nine titles each, are the sport’s elite programs along with North Dakota (eight championships), Wisconsin (six), Boston University (five), Boston College (five) and Minnesota (five).

Those athletic departments make hockey a priority in terms of the overall budget, scholarship allocation, staff salaries and team amenities. The brand-name schools among that group also tend to be the programs that recruit the most “five-star” prospects, players coming straight from high school or the U.S. National Team Development Program who likely will be future NHL draft picks and professional players. Meanwhile, the smaller – but still successful – Division I men’s hockey programs historically have looked to bring in the older, more mature and more seasoned junior players. 

This has caused a power shift among the top Division I men’s programs in recent years. While Denver, North Dakota and Boston College have combined to collect four national championships since 2011, Minnesota-Duluth has claimed three titles during the past 13 years with schools such as Quinnipiac, UMass, Providence, Union and Yale capturing the others.

The last time two “blueboods” played in the men’s D1 championship game was in 2010, when Boston College knocked off Wisconsin, 3-2, in overtime. Smaller schools that have participated in national-championship games without winning a title since then include Minnesota State, St. Cloud State and Ferris State.

“There’s a real divide between the young guns at the brand-name schools and the more veteran teams on the other side, which over the past few years is where the success has been,” college hockey guru Dave Starman explained for an article a few years back. “It’s really amazing the pasting that the ‘bluebloods’ have taken {recently}. There really are two different schools of thought. You have the brand names bringing in the very best players who are not likely to stay for four years. They compile very high-skilled teams with players who are going to play in the NHL and are itching to get there, so they arrive with one foot in and one foot out. I think those teams struggle to build a cohesive culture the way a program like Denver can.” 

That divide continued up until this season. A look at the most recent United States College Hockey Online (USCHO) Division I men’s top 20 shows a massive shift back in the other direction.

Boston College, Boston University, Denver, Michigan State, North Dakota and Minnesota – all either hockey “bluebloods” or large brand-name athletic programs – hold down the top-six spots as teams prepare for this year’s NCAA Championship. Wisconsin and Michigan also check in at Nos. 9 and 11, respectively. Other teams ranked among the top 10 include defending-champion Quinnipiac, surprising Maine and Colorado College.

“Bluebloods” Boston College and Boston University faced off last week in the Hockey East championship game, with a loaded B.C. team cruising to a 6-2 victory. Second-ranked B.U. also will be in the 16-team NCAA Tournament field.

No. 4 Michigan State won a 5-4 overtime thriller against No. 11 Michigan to capture the Big Ten title.

Third-ranked Denver beat No.12 Omaha, 4-1 to win the National Collegiate Hockey Conference championship after fifth-ranked North Dakota fell to Omaha in the NCHC semifinals.

Prior to Sunday, we knew the 16 teams that would participate in this year’s men’s NCAA Division I Championship. The tournament bracket was unveiled Sunday evening.

This year’s field includes the following teams:

#1 Boston College

#2 Boston University

#3 Denver

#4 Michigan State

#5 North Dakota

#6 Minnesota

#7 Quinnipiac

#8 Maine

#9 Wisconsin

#11 Michigan

#12 Omaha

#14 Western Michigan

#15 Cornell

#16 UMass

#19 Rochester Institute of Technology

#24 Michigan Tech


RIT earned an automatic bid by winning the Atlantic Hockey championship, 5-2, against American International College. Cornell captured the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) title with a 3-1 victory over St. Lawrence. And Michigan Tech defeated Bemidji State to capture the Central Collegiate Hockey Association title and a third-straight NCAA bid.

The 2024 NCAA Men’s Division I Ice Hockey regionals will be played in four different locations from March 29-31:


Maryland Heights, Mo. | Centene Community Ice Center 

Providence, R.I. | Amica Mutual Pavilion 

Sioux Falls S.D. | Denny Sanford PREMIER Center

Springfield, Mass. | MassMutual Center


The Frozen Four is set for April 11 and 13 in St. Paul, Minn.


Familiar Faces Battle for Women’s Title

One women’s hockey “blueblood” and another program that is rapidly moving toward “blueblood” status – and may have earned it – faced off for the NCAA National Collegiate championship Sunday as the men waited in anticipation of their tournament draw.

In a rematch of last year’s championship game, won by Wisconsin, 1-0, top-ranked Ohio State flipped the script on the Badgers and captured their second national championship by an identical score. Wisconsin was seeking its eight national title.

The puck dropped on the national-championship game at 4 p.m. EDT and was televised on ESPNU. The 2024 Women’s Frozen Four was held in Durham, N.H.

The NCAA National Collegiate Women’s Hockey Championship has been contested since 2001, with only five teams having captured titles. Ohio State was the most-recent addition to that list, capturing its first championship in 2022, 3-2, over Minnesota-Duluth, and the Buckeyes appear poised to remain among the nation’s elite for the foreseeable future after this year’s championship.

Wisconsin has won three of the last five championships, bringing its total of national titles to seven. In addition to last year’s win against OSU, the Badgers also defeated fellow “blueblood” Minnesota and Northeastern, a Hockey East power that has become a perennial national-championship contender. Northeastern has appeared in the Frozen Four each of the last three years, advancing to the championship game once.

Wisconsin’s seven championships rank first on the all-time list, ahead of Minnesota (six), Minnesota-Duluth (five), Clarkson (3) and Ohio State (one). The Badgers have ranked among the nation’s elite women’s hockey programs pretty much since Day 1, while Minnesota-Duluth captured the first three national-championships prior to also winning in 2008 and 2010. Since then, however, the Bulldogs have made just one championship-game appearance, the 2022 loss to Ohio State.

Minnesota emerged as the next powerhouse NCAA women’s hockey program in the early 2000s, capturing back-to-back championships in 2004 and 2005 and falling in the title game to Wisconsin in 2006 before resurfacing to win titles in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. That run was interrupted by Clarkson, which beat the Gophers in 2014 and also won the 2017 and 2018 championships.

Along the way, Harvard made three early championship-game appearances without winning a title. The Crimson also lost to Minnesota in the 2015 title game, while Boston University has advanced that far twice.

Since 2019, however, the tourney has been dominated by Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northeastern Clarkson, Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth, each of whom has made at least two Frozen Four appearances. Overall, Wisconsin and Minnesota each have advanced to the Frozen Four 15 times, followed by UMD (nine), Boston College (seven), Clarkson (six), Harvard (six), Ohio State (five) and St. Lawrence (five).

Frequently referred to as the NCAA Division I Women’s Ice Hockey Championship, the tournament really is called the NCAA National Collegiate Women’s Championship. Despite the sport’s recent growth, there are not enough actual Division I programs for the tournament to be classified as a Division I championship, according to NCAA bylaws. Therefore, the potential championship field includes Division I and Division II teams.

Of course, Division I programs have dominated the tournament since its inception in 2001.

There are 44 teams eligible to participate in the National Collegiate Women’s Ica Hockey Championship: 10 from Hockey East, six from College Hockey America (CHA), 12 from the ECAC, eight from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) and eight from the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance (NEWHA). The NEWHA was formed in 2017 and includes Division II members St. Michael’s, St. Anselm, Post, Franklin Pierce and Assumption.

The championship tournament includes 11 teams, with the top-five seeds receiving byes into the quarterfinals and the six additional teams facing off in first-round games.

Second-ranked Wisconsin beat seventh-ranked St. Lawrence, 4-0, and No. 3 Colgate, 3-1, to advance to this year’s championship game. No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 8 Minnesota-Duluth, 9-1, and No. 4 Clarkson, 4-1, on its road to the title.

As American colleges and universities continue their efforts to provide more athletic opportunities for women – paired with the likely continued growth of youth hockey participation among girls and the interest in women’s hockey generated by the inaugural season of the Professional Women’s Hockey League – it appears to be only a matter of time before NCAA Division I women’s hockey grows the point that its numbers approach the 64 teams competing at the D1 level on the men’s side.

More growth among Division I programs also means that more power-conference athletic programs are likely to be adding hockey teams in the future. As that hopefully happens, it will be interesting to see which programs evolve as the “bluebloods” along with how the growth affects the balance of power among existing programs and impacts the smaller programs that have been successful during the last 24 years.

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