Future of NCAA College Hockey
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Collegiate hockey has come a long way since the first American college hockey games in the late 1800s. And it’s nothing short of amazing to see where the game is now compared to when the first (wooden) puck was dropped in Montreal almost 150 years ago. Hockey wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the trailblazing colleges and universities that played their part at the onset of the game. Currently, more than 30% of the players in the NHL are former collegiate hockey players.
NCAA hockey carved its niche in the 1920s and while its rules have certainly converged with the professional game since then, that niche is still there. It’s still a skill-oriented game yet it’s physical enough to produce an abundance of NHL draft picks who hone their skills at a competitive level before making the professional leap.
To this day, there is still a focus on player safety. There is still no fighting allowed and doing so will earn that player a game-misconduct for that game and the following game. Face shields on helmets are still mandatory and there is a major penalty and game misconduct for any player to make direct contact with an opposing player’s head.
The popularity of NCAA hockey continues to this day yet it’s considered a somewhat regional sport due to the location of the college hockey programs (East Coast, Midwest and Rocky Mountains). However, the rise of Division I men’s hockey in the desert may be a signal of things to come. Arizona State University began play as an Independent in 2015 and earned its first NCAA Division I national tournament berth in 2019. Their success could prove to be the catalyst that paves the way for a resurgence of warm-weather programs. In the meantime, if history is any indicator, there’s bound to be some more conference movement and rule changes, Cinderella stories and repeat champions, returns to glory and fades from glory, and electrifying overtimes. No matter what happens, one thing is certain every year (when there isn’t a pandemic): there will be some thrilling hockey to watch between September and April.