1950s – Founding of WCHA and a Michigan Dynasty

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The Midwest Collegiate Hockey League (MCHL) was founded in 1951 and included five Midwest teams (Michigan, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University [Michigan Tech], Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota) and two teams from Colorado (Colorado College and University of Denver). Prior to the 1953 season, the league rebranded to the Western Intercollegiate Hockey League (WIHL). It retained the same seven teams until the end of the 1958 season. The league disbanded for a year yet the teams still played home-and-home series as independents. The same seven teams rejoined for a re-branded league called the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) prior to the 1959 season. In the decades to follow, the conference went through several shake-ups regarding the turnover of teams but it’s often looked at as one of the most dominant hockey conferences to exist within college hockey. Since its founding in 1951, the league has produced 37 NCAA champions.

When looking at the list of NCAA hockey champions throughout the 1950s, one team name easily stands out over all others: Michigan Wolverines. In a feat that has not been duplicated – and many claim will never be – the Wolverines won five national championships in the six years between 1951 and 1956. The teams they defeated in the championship games were Brown, Colorado College (twice), Minnesota and Michigan Tech. The three championships from 1951 to 1953 is the only three-peat in the tournament’s history. The lone year between these championships was in 1954 when Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Besides the fact that it wasn’t Michigan, this win was unique in that it was the first championship game decided in overtime. RPI won 4-3 in front of the Broadmoor World Ice Arena crowd that night.

Michigan at Minnesota January 6 1951
Michigan defeats Minnesota in Minneapolis on Jan. 6, 1951, by a score of 6-4. Photo courtesy of the Star Tribune via the Minnesota Historical Society.

Buried within the Michigan championships of the 1950s is the fact that the tournament’s home team, Colorado College, won their first national championship in 1950 when they defeated Boston University 13-4. They followed up with a championship in 1957 as well. While Colorado College has not won another championship since 1957, they have had some very successful runs over the years. Additionally, two future hockey powerhouses won their first championships in the 1950s. Denver claimed the championship in 1958 after defeating North Dakota. This was their first of nine championships; tied for most all time with Michigan. This was also the first tournament to take place outside of Colorado Springs after the initial contract ended. The championship took place at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on the University of Minnesota campus. North Dakota persevered the next year and won the school’s first championship over Michigan Tech. As of today, North Dakota is one title behind its rival of seven decades, Denver, and ranks second with eight national championship trophies.

In December 1952, a Boston tournament called the New England Invitational Tournament was held between four area teams: Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern University. The single-elimination tournament lasted two rounds with the winners from the first night playing in the championship and the other two teams playing in a consolation game. Harvard defeated Boston University 7-4 to win the iron beanpot trophy. The tournament didn’t appear again until January 1954 when the same four teams took the ice. The teams would again be vying for the beanpot trophy with Boston College coming out victorious this time when they defeated Harvard 4-1. They earned the right to take home the beanpot trophy for the year. Beginning in 1955, the first round is typically played on the first Monday of February with the championship and consolation games held on the second Monday of the month. The same four teams participate in the annual tournament but the matchups in the first round rotate on an annual basis. This historic annual competition has been crowned the Beanpot Tournament and is played in front of sellout crowds to see who will have Boston bragging rights for the year. The first tournament was played in the historic Boston Arena. The second tournament was held in Boston Garden and remained there each year until 1995. Then it shifted to the new TD Garden in Boston where it currently is played today. The Beanpot Tournament was held every calendar year from 1954 to 2020. The 2021 tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. It returned in 2022 to a packed arena of fans. As it currently stands, Boston University holds the lead in the number of men’s Beanpot Tournaments they’ve won over the other three Boston schools. The first Women’s Beanpot took place in 1979 between the same four teams. Northeastern won the inaugural tournament with a 3-1 victory over Boston College. The women’s tournament also continues to this day.

Next: 1960s – Canadians Head South and Denver Dominates