|Western Collegiate Hockey Association
NCAA Division I Conference
|Number of teams:||Men: 10
|Defending champions (men):||Denver Pioneers|
|Defending champions (women):||Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs|
The 10 WCHA men's teams compete in what has been the largely dominant conference in all of Division I since the first NCAA Tournaments. Each team plays 28 league games. Due to the geographical realities of a league where the members stretch from Michigan to Alaska, the majority of weekend series consist of full road or home series, with both teams meeting on Friday and Saturday nights. Some opponents within a short drive of each other (such as Minnesota and St. Cloud State) will play home and home series much like the standard hockey weekend for the eastern leagues.
The WCHA plays an unbalanced schedule that varies from year to year to combat the problems of a 10 team league with only 28 league games to schedule. Each team has a designated rival that they will see for 4 games each season, one series at home and one series away. The designated rivals match up as follows:
For any given team, the remaining 8 opposing teams after the 'designated rival' rotate through the schedule so that in a 4 year span, a given team will have two seasons with a full four games against a certain opponent, and two seasons with only 2 games against that opponent. The end result is that every team plays every other at least twice each season, and in any given span of four years, fans of any given team will see every other team in the league visit their arena for at least three of those four seasons. After the 28 game league schedule, the winning team is awarded the MacNaughton Cup.
The WCHA Tournament consists of seeding all 10 teams based on their regular season finish. The top five seeds host best of three playoff series the weekend after the regular season ends, with #1 hosting #10, #2 vs. #9, etc. The five teams that advance out of the first round are then re-seeded again based on regular season results, and placed in a bracket for the WCHA Final Five. At the Final Five, held at a neutral site (currently under a contract to be held at the Xcel Energy Center for the next few years), the #4 and #5 seeds meet in the Thursday night 'play-in' game. On Friday, the top seed meets the play-in winner while #2 and #3 play in the other semifinal, with both a championship and third-place game held Saturday. The winner of the WCHA tournament earns the Broadmoor Trophy, as well as the WCHA's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The women's side of the WCHA, with only 8 teams, does a better and more equitable job of scheduling than the men. Like the men, each team plays 28 league games, but with only eight teams, each team plays four games against every other, in the form of two home games and two road games.
The women's WCHA seeds all 8 teams, and conducts an standard 8 team tournament at a single site over 4 days. The winner receives the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The WCHA has for a long time been the dominanat conference in college hockey. While the membership of the league has changed over the years, featuring great rivalries, feuds, defections, and additions, the end product of WCHA hockey has dominated the landscape of college hockey. After the league's 53rd season in 2004-05, WCHA teams had won NCAA championships in 35 of those 53 years.
The WCHA as it is known today began in 1951 as the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League (MCHL), comprised of Colorado College, Denver, Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota and North Dakota. After two years, the league changed its name to better reflect the actual geographic area of the conference, and became the Western Intercollegiate Hockey League. WIHL teams dominated the NCAA tournament in the 1950s. However, the beginings of long standing quarrels were starting to show. Minnesota and the Michigan schools, each with a very strong local hockey history and local talent pool to recruit from, accused North Dakota and the Colorado schools of recruiting overage Canadian players. Such recruiting was not against NCAA rules, but did represent a stong difference in philosophy. The quarrel grew so bad that the league temporarily disbanded in 1958, thus there was no 1958-59 season. However, the negatives of a philosophical differences in recruiting practices was not enough to overcome the benefit of having a conference to play in, so the league reformed as the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Despite the hiatus, the WCHA still refers to the old MCHL formation as its birth, as it celebrated its 50th Birthday in 2001.
Even with the re-birth of western hockey, there were still substantial differnces on recruiting philosophies, and the primary combatants in the feud were Minnesota and Denver. Despite the common agreement that a league was good for all of the western hockey schools, the WCHA was initially only a loose confederation, where individual schools set their own league schedules. Minnesota, with its tradition of only recruiting and playing with kids from the state of Minnesota, was in direct opposition to the philosophy of Denver. The two schools, still bitter over the fued, would refuse to schedule each other for more than a decade. Still, the WCHA was dominant. WCHA teams won 10 consecutive NCAA titles between 1957 and 1966, untill Cornell won in 1967. After Cornell broke up the WCHA party, Denver went on to win back to back titles in 1968 and 1969.
Such great success on the ice also made the league very attractive to new teams. Minnesota-Duluth joined the league in 1966, followed by Wisconsin in 1969, and Notre Dame in 1971. Wisconsin quickly picked up on the WCHA's tradtion of excellence, qualifiying for the NCAA tournament in thier very first year in the WCHA, and winning their first NCAA title in 1973. With that growth and continued dominance on the national scene, 1973 was also the year the WCHA adopted a more formalized structure, forcibly ending the feud between Denver and Minnesota.
Despite strong showings on the national scene in the 1970s, 1979 dealt a strong blow to the WCHA. Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, and Notre Dame all left the powerful WCHA to bolster the then fledgling Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The schools, as the easternmost constituents of a western league, felt that they could do better financially in the CCHA, with more opponents in the immediate vicinity. The WCHA had always been a "plane" league with large travel expenses, and the CCHA presented an opportunity to join a "bus" league and build rivalries around the state of Michigan. Michigan Tech's defection hurt twice as much, since the school owns the MacNaughton Cup. Still, the WCHA survived as a six team league, with Wisconsin and North Dakota alternating the honors of winning NCAA titles between 1980 and 1983.
In 1984, Michigan Tech returned to the WCHA after their experiment with the CCHA, and also brought Northern Michigan with them. The addition of NMU would prove to fit in with the WCHA's tradition of excellence, as NMU won the NCAA title in 1991. 1984 also saw the WCHA and Hockey East experiment for five years with an interlocking schedule, where games between Hockey East schools and WCHA schools counted in the standings of each conference.
The WCHA continued to grow. In 1988, the league began to host their own single-site tournament that would enventually become the WCHA Final Five. St. Cloud also joined the WCHA in 1988. The expansion would continue, with the addition of Alaska-Anchorage in 1993. UAA's membership further reinforced the mold of the WCHA as a "plane" league, although UAA's memberhsip was contingent on helping to pay for teams to come visit the Seawolves. Although Northern Michigan would depart for the CCHA in 1997, the void would soon be filled by traditional NCAA Division II power Minnesota State. The Mavericks participated in the league tournament in 1997, to fill the 10th spot vacated by NMU. The Mavericks officially joined the league in 1999.
Today, the WCHA is still regarded as one of the best conferences in Division I. WCHA teams, thanks to back to back title runs by both Denver and Minnesota, have won the last four NCAA titles. The geographical realities of a conference covering such large distances requires strong financial commitments to hockey from each of the member institutions. This is shown not just in the products on the ice, but also in the facilites that the teams play in. The WCHA has seen most of its teams move into new, state of the art arenas, including North Dakota's Ralph Englestad Arena, Wisconsin's Kohl Center, and Minnesota's Mariucci Arena. Additionally, the brand of hockey seen in the WCHA is often fast paced and exciting. Six of the ten WCHA teams play on Olympic or nearly-Olympic sized ice sheets.
The Women's side of the WCHA began competition in the 1999-2000 season. The league began with seven members, five of which also compete in the men's WCHA: Bemidji State, Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State, Ohio State, St. Cloud State, and Wisconsin. Bemidji State's men's team competes in College Hockey America, while Ohio State's men's team competes in the CCHA.
The WCHA, like the men's conference, has dominated the college hockey landscape. Now five years after the formation of the conference, the WCHA has laid claim to all five national titles during that span. For the 2004-05 season, the WCHA added North Dakota to the league, giving the WCHA 8 teams, all with fine hockey pedigrees. Despite the realtively short history of the women's WCHA and women's college hockey in general, the WCHA has still done an excellent job of holding up the reputation of the WCHA.
WCHA Official Site
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