A History of the NCHA

A History of the NCHA

Now in its fourth decade of existence, the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association continues to provide opportunities for hundreds of student-athletes to compete in a nationally renowned NCAA Division III setting that is unparrelled in collegiate hockey on an annual basis.  The experience and the memories that come with it - both on and off the ice - are treasures for the student-athletes, coaches, families and friends who are fortunate enough to be part of the NCHA Men's and Women's Conferences that span from Minnesota and Wisconsin through Illinois and Michigan.

The NCHA has focused on the growth and development of college hockey since its establishment in 1980.  Some historical moments include the first formal season of balanced competition in 1981-82, 11 Men's national championships (including six titles in seven years from 1987 through 1994), the addition of the Women's Conference in 2000 and the first Women's team to be granted a bid to the NCAA tournament in 2003.  Bemidji State's Joel Otto, who played for the Beavers from 1981-85 and won a NCAA national championship, was a member of the 1989 Stanley Cup Champion Calgary Flames.

On June 1, 1980, the administrators of six charter members formally approved the creation of the NCHA.  The original six were Bemidji State University, Mankato State University, St. Cloud State University, UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls and UW-Superior.  Those schools came from the International College Hockey Association and the Western Intercollegiate Hockey Association, both of which are no longer in existence.  League play began on an unofficial basis during the 1980-81 campaign with the teams playing an unbalanced schedule. The 1981-82 season marked the first formal schedule of NCHA play and is recognized as the first official season.

Expansion has been part of the NCHA's history on many occasions; contraction has occurred at several points as well.  Through all the changes, the leadership of the NCHA has always aimed to provide a quality experience for student-athletes and a chance to play for a national title. 

The College of St. Scholastica became the first addition to the NCHA family, joining for the 1983-84 season.  Saint Cloud State would be the first to depart as it moved to the Division I level after the 1986-87 season.  During that same off-season UW-Stevens Point was admitted, keeping the total number of members at seven.  St. Scholastica left the league after the 1990-91 season and Minnesota State Mankato departed after the 1991-92 season, moving to the Division I level.  That same off-season, Lake Forest College joined the NCHA, completing the double-switch of 1992.  The spring of 1994 featured the addition of St. Norbert College and the re-admittence of St. Scholastica, bringing the total number of teams to eight.  UW-Stout brought the total to nine when it was admitted in 1996-97.  Bemidji State, the NCHA's lone team still affiliated with Division II, became a Division I program after the 1999 season.  Lake Forest would leave the Conference after the 2008-09 season, finishing 17 years of NCHA competition for the Foresters.

The structure and history of the NCHA Men's Division certainly provided a spring board for the creation of the Women's Division in 2000.  As girls' high school hockey was gaining in popularity in the Upper Midwest in the 1990s, particularly in Minnesota, and several colleges began sponsoring club and varsity teams, NCHA athletic directors began informal discussions in the later part of the decade about the idea of a women's league.  In January of 2000, they set their sights on the 2000-01 season.

At the spring meeting in April, under the leadership of then-NCHA president and UW-Stevens Point Athletics Director Frank O'Brien, a plan for the creation of the Women's Conference was ratified.  The five charter members were Lake Forest College, UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point and  UW-Superior.  The inaugural O'Brien Cup - named after the league president - was won by UW-River Falls.

The NCHA Women's Conference has grown over the past decade at a faster pace and to a greater number of programs than its founders ever imagined.  Finlandia University joined for the 2003-04 season and Concordia University Wisconsin did so in 2007-08.  More recent expansion included Adrian College and Marian University in the 2009-10 season as well as St. Norbert and St. Scholastica in 2010-11.

Besides a history of excellent league competition, the NCHA has built a history of success on the national scene.  The Men's Conference won its first NCAA championship in 1984 when Bemidji State took home the trophy.  From 1986 to 1994, an NCHA team won seven titles over nine seasons.  UW-Stevens Point won four of those, including three consecutive in 1989, 1990 and 1991.  UW-Superior brought the championship crown back to the West Region with its NCAA win in 2002, breaking a seven year stretch without a title.  St. Norbert won its first national championship in 2008 and then won back-to-back trophies in 2011 and 2012.  UW-Eau Claire became the sixth NCHA institution to win a national championship when it won in 2013.

The Women's Conference is no stranger to NCAA tournament success.  The 2002-03 UW-River Falls Falcons were the first-ever NCHA team to earn a bid to the tournament.  UW-Stevens Point qualified the following year, losing a heartbreaker 2-1 to Middlebury in the championship game.  Of the ten years an NCHA team has been in the NCAA tournament, a team has reached the Semifinals five times.  The 2010-11 season marked the first time the Women's Conference had sent more than one team to the NCAA tournament, with Adrian earning the NCHA's automatic berth and UW-River Falls earning an at-large berth.

The NCHA Women's Conference originally played a four team playoff championship, held at the site of the highest seeded team. In 2007-08 the league had six teams qualify for the playoffs, with all games being played over three days at the high seed. Since the 2009-10 season, eight teams now qualify for the playoffs. The quarterfinal round features a 2+mini game format, while the semifinals and finals are single-elimination games played at the site of the highest remaining seed.  The championship game has been decided by one goal seven times through the first 11 finals.

The Men's Conference currently plays an 18-game balanced schedule.  Each team faces the six other league opponents three times per year, with a yearly rotating 2-home / 1-away structure.  A league post-season tournament was instituted in 1985-86 and now consists of all seven teams vying for the Peters Cup, named after legendary Bemidji State coach Bob Peters. The quarterfinals use the 2+mini game series format, with the top seed receiving a bye. The semifinals are single-elimination games played at the sites of the two highest remaining seeds; the final is also single-elimination, played at the site of the highest remaining seed.

The Men's 2011 NCAA Semifinals and Final were hosted by the NCHA.  The venue was Ridder Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.  The event was a great success after more than a year of planning by many individuals.  On Friday, March 25th, Adrian College (Michigan) defeated Oswego State (New York) in the first semifinal and St. Norbert held off a late charge by Norwich University (Vermont) in the late semifinal.  St. Norbert won the championship game the following night with a 4-3 victory between the two West Region teams.  Green Knight senior goaltender B.J. O'Brien was named the weekend's Most Outstanding Player by the NCAA Committee.

NCHA Women's Champions

Year           Regular Season       Playoff Champion NCAA Tournament Teams Player of the Year
2012-13 UW-River Falls St. Norbert St. Norbert (A bid, First Round)
UW-River Falls (C bid, First Round)
Britany Zeches, Sr, G, Adrian
2011-12 UW-River Falls UW-River Falls
UW-River Falls (A bid, First Round)
 Dani Schultz, Fr, F, UW-Superior
2010-11 UW-River Falls Adrian

Adrian (A bid, First Round)
UW-River Falls (C bid, First Round)

Kristin Faber, Sr, F, UW-Eau Claire
2009-10 Lake Forest UW-River Falls UW-River Falls (A bid, First Round) Kim Herring, So, F, Lake Forest
2008-09 UW-River Falls UW-River Falls UW-River Falls (A bid, 4th place) Nicole Grossmann, Sr, F, UW-Stevens Point
2007-08 UW-Superior UW-Superior UW-Superior (C bid, 4th place) Gina Baranzelli, Sr, F, UW-Superior
2006-07 UW-Superior UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point (C bid, 3rd place) Amber Lindner, Sr, G, UW-River Falls
2005-06 UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point (C bid, 3rd place) Erin Kegley, Jr, F, UW-Superior
2004-05 UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point (C bid)  
2003-04 UW-Superior UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point (C bid, Runner-Up)  
2002-03 UW-River Falls UW-River Falls UW-River Falls (C bid)  
2001-02 UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point    
2000-01 UW-Superior UW-River Falls    

NCHA Men's Champions

Year           Regular Season Playoff Champion NCAA Tournament Teams Player of the Year
2012-13 UW-Eau Claire* St. Norbert St. Norbert (A, Qtrfinals)
UW-Eau Claire (C, Champion)
Brandon Stephenson, Sr, G, UW-Eau Claire
2011-12 St. Norbert St. Norbert*
St. Norbert (A, Champion)
Johan Ryd, Sr, F, St. Norbert
2010-11 St. Norbert
St. Norbert*

St. Norbert (A, Champion)
UW-Superior (C, First Round)

B.J. O'Brien, Sr, G, St. Norbert
2009-10 St. Norbert St. Norbert St. Norbert (A bid, Runner-Up) Joel Gaulrapp, Sr, F, UW-Stout
2008-09 UW-Superior UW-Stout UW-Stout (A bid, Semifinals)
UW-Superior (C bid, Quarterfinals)
St. Scholastica (C bid, First Round)
Chad Beiswenger, Sr, G, UW-Superior
2007-08 St. Norbert St. Norbert* St. Norbert (A bid, Champion)
UW-Stout (C bid, First Round)
Kyle Jones, Sr, G, St. Norbert
2006-07 St. Norbert,
UW-River Falls,
St. Norbert St. Norbert (A bid, Semifinals)
UW-River Falls (C bid, First Round)
T.J. Dahl, Jr, F, UW-River Falls
2005-06 St. Norbert UW-Superior UW-Superior (A bid, Quarterfinals)
St. Norbert (C bid, Semifinals)
Kyle Jones, So, G, St. Norbert
2004-05 St. Norbert St. Norbert    
2003-04 St. Norbert St. Norbert    
2002-03 St. Norbert St. Norbert    
2001-02 St. Norbert UW-Superior*    
2000-01 UW-Superior UW-Superior    
1999-2000 UW-Stevens Point UW-Superior    
1998-99 St. Norbert St. Norbert    
1997-98 St. Norbert St. Norbert    
1996-97 St. Norbert UW-Superior    
1995-96 UW-River Falls UW-River Falls    
1994-95 Bemidji State Bemidji State    
1993-94 UW-Superior UW-Superior*    
1992-93 UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point*    
1991-92 UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point    
1990-91 Mankato State,
Bemidji State
UW-Stevens Point*    
1989-90 UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point*    
1988-89 UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point*    
1987-88 UW-River Falls UW-River Falls*    
1986-87 Mankato State,
St. Cloud State    
Bemidji State    
1985-86 Mankato State,
Bemidji State
Bemidji State*    
1984-85 Bemidji State      
1983-84 Bemidji State*      
1982-83 Bemidji State      
1981-82 Bemidji State      

* National Champion