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College Hockey: WCHA's Five Best Coaches

Joe WatsonCorrespondent IJanuary 10, 2017

College Hockey: WCHA's Five Best Coaches

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    The WCHA is the best conference in college hockey.  Sadly, it seems to be nearing the end of its life.

    The Big Ten will take Minnesota and Wisconsin while the National College Hockey Conference will take North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha.

    Let's not get sad, but let's remember the success of the WCHA.  Currently, the WCHA's programs have won 31 national championships.  Denver, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are widely regarded as four of the best college hockey programs in the country.

    Not only is the WCHA home to fantastic teams, but fantastic coaches.  So here is my list of the top five current WCHA coaches.

5. Mike Eaves, University of Wisconsin

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    Coach Eaves took over the head coaching job in Madison in 2002.  Since his arrival, the program has enjoyed a very successful run.

    During his tenure, the Badgers won a NCAA Championship in 2006 and were 2010 National Runners-Up.

    With a career mark of 192-138-42, Eaves has brought the winning tradition back to the Kohl Center. 

4. Dave Hakstol, University of North Dakota

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    Hakstol may not have the National Championships of the other coaches on this list, but he deserves a spot on the list regardless.

    Hakstol took over UND in 2004, and in his first season brought his team the NCAA Title game before losing to the Denver Pioneers.  Since, then, Hakstol has continued the elite winning tradition of Sioux Hockey.

    During his seven years in Grand Forks, Hakstol has brought the Sioux to the NCAA tournament each year. 

    Those seven NCAA tournament berths have included five Frozen Four appearances.  Not to mention, two WCHA tournament championships and a regular season title as well.

3. Don Lucia, University of Minnesota

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    Lucia has been a consistent winner.  He started his career with the Alaska Nanooks, managing a winning record in three of his four seasons in Fairbanks.

    Lucia then moved to Colorado College, leading the Tigers to three consecutive WCHA regular season championships in his first three years.  His time in Colorado Springs also included two Frozen Fours and a loss in the 1996 NCAA title game.  A pretty successful run.

    Naturally, Minnesota took interest in Lucia's success.  In 2002, his third season in Minneapolis, Lucia coached the Gophers to their fourth NCAA championship.  The 2002 Gopher squad included Hobey Baker winner Jordan Leopold.

    Then, in 2003, Lucia led the Gophers to another NCAA title.  Since his second title in Minnesota, Lucia brought the Gophers to the Frozen Four in 2005.  

    Success has followed Lucia everywhere he has gone.

2. Dean Blais, University of Nebraska-Omaha

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    Blais began his WCHA coaching career with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux.  During his time in Grand Forks, Blais led the Sioux to two National Championships in 1997 and 2000.  He compiled a 262-115-34 record as the Sioux's head coach.

    Then in 2009, Blais took over as coach at Nebraska-Omaha.  In his two years there, he has compiled a 41-32-8 record.

    In 2011, Blais led the UNO Mavericks to the NCAA tournament in the program's first year in the WCHA.  It was the second appearance in school history.  Blais weathered the transition into the WCHA with relative ease. 

1. George Gwozdecky, Denver University

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    Gwozdecky has been the head man in Denver since 1994.  Prior to Gwozdecky's arrival, the Pioneers had not made the NCAA tournament since 1986.  It was a program of great tradition going through a decade of struggles.

    Gwozdecky fixed that. In his first season, he led the Pioneers to the NCAA tournament. 

    During his tenure, he has led the Pioneers to three WCHA regular season championships and three WCHA conference tournament championships.  

    His tenure also includes 10 NCAA tournament appearances, two Frozen Four appearances, and two National Championships in 2004 and 2005.  Matt Carle became the program's first Hobey Baker winner in 2006.

    Gwozdecky transformed from a cellar dweller to a national power, vying for the WCHA and NCAA crown each year.

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