MAC Hockey Realignment: Meet Your New Conference - Part III: A "New" Hope

The St. Cloud State Huskies made it to the Frozen Four last season. What outlook do they have in the new NCHC? - Justin K. Aller

In this three-part series, we look at the final results of the recent conference realignment shift (and proverbial death of the CCHA) and how it impacts each our 4 MAC schools' conferences. Our final installment looks at the brand new NCHC.

With the unfortunate, speculated news that WMU's first round draft pick Michael McCarron is choosing the OHL over WMU coming out today, we need some positive hockey news to help counteract that. Since we've already looked at UMass and the Hockey East and then BGSU and the new WCHA, there is no better time than to look at the brand new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, or the NCHC.

This new conference, formed from a group of powerhouses from the WCHA and CCHA, looks to make it's mark on the national landscape in it's first season. However, with so many great teams, many critics counter by saying that the competitive schedules will limit the number of teams making the NCAA tournament. Either way, it should be an exciting conference with all the history the 8 teams bring. Let's meet them!

Colorado College Tigers

Location: Colorado Springs, CO
Enrollment: 1,950
National Championships: 2 (1950, 1957)
Notable Alumni: Mike Stuart, Greg Smith, Jaden Schwartz, Peter Sejna

Colorado College has had three periods of hockey in their history. After being founded in 1938, the Tigers quickly rose to prominence winning 2 championships and making the Frozen Four 7 times in 10 years including 5 straight times from 1948-1952. After that 1957 National Championship however, CC would suffer a long drought, making the NCAA Tournament just once (1978, their only WCHA Tournament Title) in a 38 year span.

However, Don Lucia would be hired in 1993 (Year 36 of that span) and he quickly began rebuilding the program. In just his 2nd season, he had the Tigers back in the NCAA Tournament, and made back-to-back Frozen Fours the next two seasons. In fact, under Lucia, Colorado failed to make the NCAA tournament just his first season. Since Lucia left for Minnesota, Scott Owens has led the Tigers to 7 NCAA appearances including a Frozen Four appearance in 2005.

University of Denver Pioneers

Location: Denver, CO
Enrollment: 11,842
National Championships: 7 (1958, 1960, 1961, 1968, 1969, 2004, 2005)
Notable Alumni: Craig Patrick, Kevin Dineen, Paul Stastny

The Pioneers are only one of three schools with 7 or more National Championships, along with North Dakota (see below) and Michigan. They have made the NCAA Tournament 23 times, making the Frozen Four 14 times. AND that is with a slight dead period from the mid-1970's to the mid-1990's (21 seasons, 1 NCAA appearance). They also have a Hobey Baker Winner in Matt Carle (2006). Woo doggy!

Murray Armstrong is the main reason behind most of the National Championships, as from 1956 to 1977, he won 463 games and 5 National Titles. Denver would then go quiet on the national landscape until George Gwozdecky was hired in 1994 and immediately returned the program into a powerhouse. In 18 seasons, he won 311 games and two national titles. Yet somehow, despite everything he had done, and making this past NCAA Tournament, Gwoz was fired this past season and replaced my incoming coach Jim Montgomery. Uh oh!

Miami University RedHawks

Location: Oxford, OH
Enrollment: 15,726
National Championships: 0
Notable Alumni: Andy Miele, Reilly Smith, Dan Boyle, Carter Camper

Oh Miami! The RedHawks were just minutes away from joining half of their new conference members as part of the "We've won a National Title" Club. But that epic meltdown versus Boston U cost them that spot. Still, there are few programs that can claim they've been to each of the past 8 NCAA Tournaments. They are also one of six NCHC teams with a Hobey Baker Winner in Miele.

The key to the RedHawk success can easily be traced to coach Enrico Blasi. Blasi was a player Gwoz when he was head coach for Miami from 1989-94, and then became an assistant for his coach before taking the Miami head coaching gig in 1999. Since then, Blasi has gone 311-196-53 (.603) and made two Frozen Fours. Look for him to again lead a stacked RedHawk team to the top of the NCHC.

University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Location: Duluth, MN
Enrollment: 10,500
National Championships: 1 (2011)
Notable Alumni: Brett Hull, Mark Pavelich, J.T. Brown, Jim Johnson, Mike Connolly

Oddly enough, Minnesota-Duluth is more prominent for their players rather than their teams. The Bulldogs have produced 5 Hobey Baker winners, the most out of any school in the country. (NOTE: The Hobey Baker Memorial Award was first introduced in 1981, so players before 1980 like BGSU's Ken Morrow never had a chance to win the award). In fact, they have more Hobey Bakers than Frozen Four appearances. But don't sleep on UMD, as they have the most recent NCAA Title out of any of the teams in the NCHC.

University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks

Location: Omaha, NE
Enrollment: 14,903
National Championships: 0
Notable Alumni: Greg Zanon, Chris Holt, Dan Ellis

The Mavericks easily have the smallest sample size out of any of their 7 counterparts in the NCHC. Founded in 1997, this program has seen just 16 seasons. In those seasons, the Mavericks have made the NCAA tournament just twice (2006 & 2011) and has yet to win a game when there. They also have yet to finish higher than 3rd in their conference, doing that just once in 2011. UNO will have a lot of work to do, but Dean Blais appears to be doing a decent job at trying to get the Mavericks into prominence, especially after such a successful stint at his last college coaching stop.........

University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux*

Location: Grand Forks, ND
Enrollment: 15,250
National Championships: 7 (1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000)
Notable Alumni: Jonathan Toews, Dennis Hextall, Zach Parise, T.J. Oshie, Matt Frattin, many more
*UND forced to drop Fighting Sioux nickname due to NCAA rule in 2012

Quite possibly the 2nd most storied hockey program in the nation (behind Michigan), North Dakota brings 28 NCAA appearances (including the longest active streak of 11 straight), 19 Frozen Four appearances, 7 National Titles, and 2 Hobey Baker winners. Minnesota fans will beg to differ, but the fact remains that North Dakota should the be at the top of the NCHC in terms of legacy right from the get-go.

North Dakota has consistently been great, especially recently. After Gino Gasparini won 3 titles in 16 seasons, Blais took over in 1994. There, he won 5 regular season WCHA Regular Season Titles, 2 WCHA Tournaments, and 2 NCAA Titles, in a mere 10 seasons. His .733 winning percentage is utterly insane. However, he left after 2004 to pursue a coaching career in the NHL leaving the door open for Dave Hakstol to come in. What has he done? Oh, just won 65% of his games in 9 seasons. However, he has yet to reach the NCAA Title game since his 1st season at the helm.

St. Cloud State University Huskies

Location: St. Cloud, MN
Enrollment: 17,073
National Championships: 0
Notable Alumni: Drew LeBlanc, Mark Hartigan, Ryan Malone

The Huskies are fresh off their first NCAA Frozen Four at the D-I level, being the only team West of Pennsylvania to have made it to national semis. Also, the Huskies garnered their first Hobey Baker winner in LeBlanc, so there is a lot to be excited about in St. Cloud. They have 8 NCAA Tournament Appearances since 2000, with only one other in their program history at the D-I level, so their success is much like Miami's. It'll be interesting to see if the Huskies continue to improve, but they come in having gone the farthest of any NCHC team in last year's NCAA, so they have an early target on their backs.

Western Michigan University Broncos

Location: Kalamazoo, MI
Enrollment: 25,045
National Championships: 0
Notable Alumni: Danny DeKeyser, Jamal Mayers, Mark Letestu, John Saunders (yes, that guy from ESPN)

The team with the oldest "barn" by 15 years also rounds up our series. The Broncos had made the NCAA tournament back-to-back seasons before collapsing down the stretch in February and March this season and just missing out on their 3rd straight, and 6th overall, trip. However, the Broncos have had no success in the NCAA's, going 0-6 in 5 trips (the NCAA used to play 2 game aggregate series at one point), with a double OT loss to Denver in 2011 as the closest they've came to winning a game.

WMU has produced some good players though, with DeKeyser currently playing with the Red Wings and garnering lots of praise from legendary coach Mike Babcock. Also, Letestu led the Blue Jackets in scoring last season, so there's that too. And while the Broncos have never won a Hobey Baker award, they came close, with Dan Dorion finishing 2nd in 1986 after leading the nation in scoring that season.

So there is the new NCHC. The formidable conference looks to lead the nation but must fight powerhouses in the new Big Ten Hockey Conference and the always tough Hockey East. Nevertheless, the powers should show 3-4 teams into the NCAA Tournament where the fun begins. Now if you excuse me, I must continue McCarron Watch, as he still has yet to formally decide his hockey future.

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