College hockey is a sport defined by National Champions and Hobey Baker winners. In this article, I will rank the top five college hockey programs of all time. To determine which program is the best, I will consider the number of NCAA championships, consistency, Hobey Baker Winners and success of the school's alumni in the NHL.
Each year, only 16 teams make it to the NCAA tournament; to be crowned champion, a team must win 4 games in a row. Success in the NCAA tournament is key to a program's standing because it distinguishes between consistent, elite winners and the teams that got hot at the right time. Therefore, the number of national championships will be the primary factor in determining which program is best.
Former Gopher Jordan Leopold
Yes, I know. Why are the Gophers fifth?
The Gophers are arguably the most well-known college hockey program in the country and have bred some of the greatest college hockey players of all time. Minnesota is home to NCAA record four Hobey Baker winners, the most recent being current NHL defenseman Jordan Leopold. Gopher alumni include players such as Leopold, Alex Goligoski, Phil Kessel, Thomas Vanek and legends like Herb Brooks and John Mariucci.
However, the Gophers have not been as successful in the NCAA tournament as some of their rivals. Minnesota has won five NCAA championships, which is tied for fifth most all time. Unfortunately for Gopher fans, two of those teams with more titles—North Dakota and Wisconsin—are the program's biggest rivals.
Lately, the Gophers seem to have placed more emphasis on individual talent than on building a cohesive team. Their roster is loaded with excellent recruits, but few wear the maroon and gold sweater for all 4 years. Perhaps by recruiting for the long haul (instead of trying for an immediate fix) the Gophers can return the elite winning tradition back to Minneapolis.
Honorable Mention: Boston University Terriers, Boston College Eagles
2010 Hobey Baker Winner Blake Geoffrion
The Badgers are one of the most underrated college hockey programs in the country. Quietly, Wisconsin has won six national championships, which is fourth most all time.
Consistency has been the hallmark of the Badger hockey program. UW has won an NCAA title in each of the past four decades, and lost in the NCAA title game in 2010.
Another key to the program's great success is its player development. Wisconsin recruits good players and develops them into great players over their careers in Madison. Most players stay all four years to take advantage of the development. That is why many college hockey fans consider the Badgers' lack of Hobey Baker winners (Blake Geoffrion in 2010) to be an anomaly.
Wisconsin has had many great players that have had great success in the NHL. Some successful former Badgers in the NHL include Brian Rafalski, Dany Heatley, Chris Chelios, Joe Pavelski, Curtis Joseph, Steve Reinprecht and Ryan Suter.
The Denver Pioneers have won seven national championships. DU's seven titles is tied for second most all time and includes back-to-back wins in 2004 and 2005.
DU consistently is among the top teams in the WCHA, a conference that includes Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Colorado College. The Pioneers have appeared in each of the past four NCAA tournaments (2008 through 2011).
The Pioneers are known for their highly skilled forwards that fly around the ice.
While tremendously successful in college, many of these players haven't translated to the NHL as well as other teams on this list. The list of DU alums in the NHL includes Paul Statsny, Matt Carle and Keith Magnuson. However, the program does have a Hobey Baker winner (Carle in 2006).
When North Dakota is on the road, the Sioux often listen to the jeers from the fans calling them "Gopher Rejects!" It should be that the Gophers are "Sioux rejects."
North Dakota has amassed seven national championships, which is tied with Denver for second most all time (and more than their rival Gophers).
Even if the Sioux aren't playing for an NCAA championship, they are often getting as close as possible. Since 2000, NoDak has played in seven Frozen Fours, including four in a row from 2005 through 2008. The Sioux are the most consistently excellent program of late.
Not only is the team successful, but its players are tremendously successful as well. North Dakota has produced two Hobey Baker winners, the most recent being Ryan Duncan in 2007. The Sioux boast a tremendous group of alumni in the NHL including Jonathan Toews, Ed Belfour and Zach Parise.
Right now, college hockey recruits should look to Grand Forks as the premiere destination.
Michigan is the most successful and consistent college hockey program of all time. It's a no-brainer.
The Wolverines have won nine national championships, which is the most all time. They nearly added a 10th this past April in St. Paul, losing to Minnesota-Duluth in the championship game.
Since 1991, Michigan has appeared in 21 consecutive NCAA tournaments. The streak is the longest all time in college hockey and is currently active.
The Wolverines have had two Hobey Baker winners to further cement their legacy. The most recent winner was Kevin Porter in 2008. Wolverine NHLers include Jack Johnson, Marty Turco, Brendan Morrison and John Madden.
The Wolverines have had successful individuals, consistently successful teams, and the most championships. They are, without a doubt, the greatest college hockey program of all time.