1960s – Canadians Head South and Denver Dominates

Previous: 1950s – Founding of WCHA and a Michigan Dynasty

Using the momentum from the end of the previous decade, Denver won back-to-back titles in 1960 and 1961. They also bookended the decade by winning another set of back-to-back titles in 1968 and 1969 for a total of four national championships in the 1960s. The Pioneers defeated four different teams in these title games.

Denver celebrates their victory over Cornell in the 1969 NCAA hockey championship game by hoisting their coach Murray Armstrong in the air.
Tim Gould (3), Keith Magnuson (2), and Dale Zeman (6) of the Denver Pioneers celebrate their victory by carrying head coach Murray Armstrong after the 1968-69 NCAA championship game victory over the Cornell University Big Red in Broadmoor Arena, Colorado Springs, Colorado on March 15, 1969. Photo courtesy of the Digital Collections at DU.

The Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) was formed in 1961 and was comprised of a staggering 28 teams from multiple former conferences in New England and New York. At the time of the ECAC’s founding in 1961, the national tournament was often an East vs. West affair. Up until 1961, the national committee selected the teams from the East while the WCHA held an end-of-year tournament starting in 1959 to determine who would represent the West. To take the decision out of the committee’s hands, the ECAC also created an end-of-year tournament in 1962 to determine their representatives for the national tournament. Three years later in 1964, 14 teams would leave the conference to create the ECAC 2 conference. The formation of this new ECAC 2 conference ultimately created the NCAA College Division, which was a lower-tier hockey division that would eventually become Division II and III hockey. Throughout the years, the original ECAC conference would continue to be whittled down from the inaugural 28 teams but the current combination of teams that play in the ECAC today include some of the first teams to ever play collegiate hockey, such as Yale, Harvard and Princeton. The ECAC has produced four Hobey Baker Award winners and almost 700 players that were drafted by NHL teams.

Facing repeated pressure by the NHL, the NCAA relaxed its rule on checking in the 1960s and began to allow it throughout the defensive half. They further relaxed the rule in 1968 when they allowed checking up until the offensive blue line. Up until this point, the NHL was putting pressure on the NCAA to change the rule due to the fact that very few American-born players were being drafted in the NHL at this time. By this point, the National Hockey League allowed checking throughout the entire sheet of ice. This was also practiced throughout Canada. The owners, general managers and players within the NHL looked at the NCAA as a skills-only league that didn’t toughen up its athletes enough to be able to compete in the rough professional league. This continued relaxation of the checking rule in 1968 was a precursor to the inevitable. However, it wouldn’t take place until the following decade.

While NCAA hockey teams began scouting Canadian players in the 1950s, it didn’t hit its boiling point until the 1960s. A Canadian influx of players created animosity on both sides of the border. American players felt they were losing scholarships to foreign citizens while fans felt cheated when a team of Canadians would win an American national championship trophy. On the flip side, Canadians didn’t like the idea of American schools luring away talent. They also looked at it as if these Canadian NCAA hockey players were taking the easy way out by playing in a checking-regulated league that was looked at as softer than others. This situation was brought into the forefront due to successful hockey teams that won NCAA titles during this decade. The majority of national champions in the 1960s – Denver, North Dakota, Michigan, Michigan State, Cornell – all included numerous Canadians on their rosters. In 1965, the NCAA created an age-limit restriction on foreign athletes. This rule had an effect on the situation but it was also aided by other rule changes in the following decade.

In 1964, Brown University’s Pembroke College organized the first American collegiate women’s varsity hockey team. A short time later, Cornell fielded a women’s hockey team as well. They were the only two American schools to offer varsity women’s intercollegiate hockey for almost a decade. They often played Canadian schools due to the variety of schools north of the border that offered women’s hockey at that time. Canadian universities and clubs began fielding women’s teams again in the 1950s and by the 1960s, there were numerous Canadian tournaments.

Next: 1970s – Major Rule Changes in 1972