Welcome, everyone, to a column that will appear whenever the whim of writing it comes along. It’s a simple column about history, one in which we give the answers to common and not-so-common questions about college hockey.
You have the questions, and I probably have the answers. But you may stump me every once in a while.
The purpose here is straightforward. I’ll answer factual questions about college hockey history. Occasionally — very occasionally — I’ll ask for your help if I don’t know the answer.
So, let’s get to it.
Q: Recently someone told me that Clarkson had an undefeated season. If so, then how come the Golden Knights didn’t win the NCAA title?
Clarkson did have an undefeated season, in 1955-56, when the Knights went 23-0.
The head coach of that team was Bill Harrison, who went on to become Clarkson’s first recipient of the Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year. The team itself was loaded with talent, led by All-Americans Eddie Rowe and Art Smith, and captured the Tri-State League title.
So, if they went 23-0, how did they not win the NCAA title? Well, in those days, the NCAA only allowed varsity athletes three years of eligibility, therefore rendering ineligible all players in their fourth years of competition.
Because of that rule, Clarkson had eight players ineligible for NCAA tournament purposes, all seniors on the squad. Now, Clarkson was invited to the four-team national tournament, but would not have been allowed to dress any of those eight. So the Golden Knights took a team vote and decided to decline the bid.
And arguably the best Golden Knight team in history never went to the NCAA tournament at all.
In the semifinals that year, Michigan defeated St. Lawrence, 2-1 in overtime, and Michigan Tech beat Boston College, 10-4. Michigan then won its sixth title over Tech, 7-5, in the championship game.
Q: Alaska-Anchorage is now in the WCHA, Alaska-Fairbanks the CCHA. But weren’t they both in another conference before?
Yes. These two teams were in the Great West Conference, so named for geographic reasons which will become obvious in a moment.
In 1985, the Great West was formed by four Division I schools that were, at the time, independents: the two Alaska schools, Northern Arizona and U.S. International, based in San Diego.
This, needless to say, was an enormous undertaking from a travel standpoint. The distance from Anchorage to Fairbanks was the shortest among the four schools, and that’s still a seven-hour bus ride. And to support all the flying for a schedule of 12 conference games between the four programs would turn out to be an unsupportable monetary burden.
U.S. International won the first Great West title in 1986 with a 9-3-0 conference record, after which the conference was cut to three members as Northern Arizona dropped hockey from its varsity programs.
The following year, the teams went to 16 conference games, or eight against each opponent, and Alaska-Anchorage won the title with a 9-6-1 record.
In 1987-88, the conference dropped back to eight league games and Alaska-Fairbanks won the title with a 5-3-0 record.
From there, the Great West conference disbanded. Why not, right? Each of its teams had won a conference title? In all seriousness, the travel demands and monetary outlays were too much. U.S. International dropped ice hockey at the end of 1988, dictating the end of the Great West.
Now if the PAC-10 went after hockey…
Q: The WCHA is celebrating 50 years of operation. But I thought the WCHA started in 1959, which would make it 42 years old?
The WCHA did officially begin in 1959, but the league traces its roots to 1951.
In 1951, Colorado College, Denver, Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota and North Dakota banded together to form the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League, the second official league to be formed in college hockey after the Tri-State Hockey League (more on that in another column).
The MCHL was a force in the NCAAs, with Michigan winning six titles. In the 1950s, the league claimed all but the 1954 NCAA tournament, which was won by Rensselaer over Minnesota.
But the MCHL suffered from infighting, and in 1958 the conference disbanded after Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota withdrew on the grounds that the other three members were recruiting overage Canadians (a legal practice, but one of those unwritten rule things you hear so much about). So, in 1958-59, the MCHL did not have league play.
But cooler heads prevailed; the WCHA was born with more relaxed rules, including an informal conference schedule, and came to be as it is today — with a few hiccups, which are also interesting stories.
Short Answers To Short Questions
Q: Which team has made the most appearances in the NCAA tournament? Minnesota and Boston University with 25 each.
Q: What two schools’ hockey teams were featured in “Love Story”? Cornell and Harvard.
Q: Who does Sam want to be when he grows up? Vince McMahon, Jr.
Well, not bad. Three very good questions, which I hope I’ve answered well enough for you. For comments, or if you have a question for me, just drop me an email.
I’ll be back soon enough with more answers. Until then, keep saying, “What?”