In professional hockey, it can be hard to put together a dynasty thanks to the salary cap and free agency, but that’s not the case in the college ranks. Typically, teams that are toward the top tend to stay there, while the lower programs are only just a few players away from joining them.
Over the years, a handful of college hockey teams have had the sustained success that puts them above the rest. Between trips to the Frozen Four, national championships, and eventual NHLers that made it into the Hall of Fame, these are the five most successful NCAA hockey programs.
Before we get to the list, here are some of the teams that just missed the cut but have had tremendous program success: Boston University, Wisconsin, Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan State, Wisconsin.
5. Boston College
The Boston College Eagles come to mind for a lot of hockey fans in terms of teams that have had sustained success without piling up too many championships. Outside of their dynasty run from 2001 to 2012, the Eagles have just one NCAA Tournament championship which came in 1949.
The Eagles have still made the NCAA Tournament more often than not, though, so they are always near the top of the title contention scene. There have been a lot of great NHL players to come from Boston College, including Hall of Famers like Brian Leetch and Joe Mullen, as well as star players Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Guerin, and Brian Boyle.
The University of Denver was an absolute dynasty during its early years as they started play in 1949 and were the NCAA champions within a decade. Denver dominated in the 1960s and reached the Frozen Four regularly in the early 1970s. Throughout the rest of the decade and into the early 2000s, though, Denver was a sleeping giant.
Thankfully for the Pioneers, they were able to right the ship and have since become one of the top hockey programs in the NCAA once again. They won the NCAA Tournament twice during the 2000s, then again in 2017 and 2022. Among the notable NHL players to attend Denver are Paul Stastny and Tyler Bozak and Hall of Famers Craig Patrick and Glenn Anderson.
3. North Dakota
While ND might translate to Notre Dame for college football fans, it certainly means North Dakota when it comes to college hockey. The Fighting Hawks have been among the best teams in the NCAA since starting play in the mid-1940s and have reached the Frozen Four more than 20 times.
Along the way, North Dakota has won several championships and routinely makes the NCAA Tournament. The top NHL players who make their way through the North Dakota hockey program include Dave Christian, Jason Blake, and Hockey Hall of Famer Ed Belfour. More recent players include Zach Parise, Jonathan Toews, and T.J. Oshie.
Known by casual fans perhaps more for its football program, the University of Michigan has also had a rich tradition in hockey. Also, like the football team, Michigan hockey last won a national championship in the late 1990s despite routinely being one of the top teams in the nation.
Overall, Michigan has nine national titles between 1948 and 1998, and more than two dozen trips to the Frozen Four. Some of Michigan’s top players to reach the NHL include Andrew Cogliano, Mike Knuble, and former number-one overall draft pick Jack Johnson. Michigan was also home to the Detroit Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers began play in 1921 and have been one of the top teams on an almost annual basis ever since. No team has won the Big Ten title more than Minnesota, and they’ve made the NCAA Tournament regularly since the early 1970s. Minnesota has more wins than any other NCAA program, as well.
Interestingly enough, Minnesota only has five national championship wins, but they’ve reached the Frozen Four well over 20 times, including every year between 1986 and 1989. Some of the most successful NHL players to come from Minnesota include Phil Kessel, Neal Broten, and Alex Goligoski.