NCHC: The New Kid on the College Hockey Block
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) features eight of
the nation's top hockey teams. The college hockey season runs from October to March, with playoffs extending into April.
members include Colorado College, Denver, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and
NCHC teams belong to Division I, the top level of NCAA hockey. The teams play a 24-game conference
schedule. Most college hockey games take place on weekends, with schools hosting a single opponent for a two-game series each
week. In addition to the conference slate, NCHC teams also play a dozen or more games against non-conference Division I teams.
The NCHC also sponsors a season-ending conference tournament featuring every team. Quarterfinal series take place at the
home of the highest seeds, with a best two-out-of-three format. This means that two games in each weekend's playoff series
are guaranteed to be played, with an optional third-and-deciding game also possible.
The four quarterfinal winners
advance to the Frozen Face-off, the NCHC's name for its tournament semifinals and finals. The tournament takes place at the
Target Center in Minneapolis, MN, a neutral site for all conference teams. The weekend features four games with two semifinals,
a third-place game, and the championship.
The NCHC was born from the chaos generated in top-level
college hockey when Penn State added a DI hockey team. The Nittany Lion program triggered an agreement among Big 10 teams
to form a six-team college hockey league. The conferences those teams withdrew from found they had lost some of their best
teams and best attendance draws. As teams dealt with the fallout, it became clear the existing leagues did not consider themselves
strong enough to survive in their current forms. As a result, eight of the top remaining programs decided to join together
and form a new league.
The new league began play during the 2013-2014 season. NCHC members have won 17
NCAA champions and 74 regular season or conference tournament championships. The conference extends across three time zones
in six states, and the NCHC headquarters is in Colorado Springs, CO - also the home of USA Hockey (the Olympic and national
team organizer). Interestingly, Denver and North Dakota have both won seven NCAA Division I titles. Only Michigan has won
College hockey is an intense experience for spectators, especially at high-caliber
programs like those found in the NCHC. Expect lots of noise, exuberant students, chants, razzing of the other team and refs,
and - if the arena allows it - cowbells.
Most NCHC teams draw large crowds, and NCHC Championship tickets can be scarce
if a name team comes to an arena or when a local rival visits. You'll want to plan ahead for those key games.
game-day atmosphere mixes students, alumni and local hockey fans. College fans can be rowdy, but are generally knowledgeable
about the game and well behaved. It's not unusual for fans to travel to opposing arenas, although the distances in the NCHC
can limit the number of road warriors in attendance. Expect large contingents from both teams when Colorado College plays
nearby Denver and when the Minnesota teams face off against each other.
You'll see a good variety of food and souvenir
concessions at NCHC arenas. Most NCHC teams play in on-campus arenas, so alcohol sales may be banned or restricted to certain
sections. Call the arena ahead of time if you want to know the alcohol policy.