U.S. College Hockey History

The focus of this website is American college hockey and how it has evolved to where it is today. But that story would be incomplete if we didn’t start at the very beginning of hockey’s origin story. The emphasis of this historical write-up – and this website – is U.S. NCAA Division I men’s hockey. However, please note that all facets of U.S. college hockey are represented throughout the following pages. Canadian college hockey is also included because it played a very important role in hockey’s beginnings. Details are included to differentiate between the men’s and women’s programs as well as the different U.S. divisions. If no identifier is included, the applicable passage pertains to the men’s highest level of college hockey – Division I. This historical summary is for both the casual hockey fan and die-hard collegiate hockey fan, and anyone in between who just happens to stumble upon this page. No historical breakthroughs were unearthed during the creation of this write-up; the information is readily available throughout books, websites, schools, historical sports articles, and archived alumni distributions. But what we’ve included here is something that was lacking in the past: the complete story of collegiate hockey as told from the beginning of the sport of hockey to where it stands today. We hope you enjoy this write-up as much as we did in creating it.

Jump to a specific era below or scroll down to start from the very beginning of this sport’s history.

March 3, 1875 – Montreal
Hockey on Campus – McGill University
Canadian and U.S. Expansion
Women’s Hockey Begins
1900s – Harvard and Yale Dominate the East Coast
1910s – America’s First Hockey Star: Hobey Baker
1920s – NCAA Rules, Brand, and Western U.S. Expansion
1930s – West Coast Rises and the East Coast Goes International
1940s – The First NCAA Tournament
1950s – Founding of WCHA and a Michigan Dynasty
1960s – Canadians Head South and Denver Dominates
1970s – Major Rule Changes in 1972
1980s – Miracle on Ice
1990s – Frozen Four Rebrand and Rise of U.S. Women’s College Hockey
2000s – WCHA Dominates
2010s – Big Ten Hockey Upends Collegiate Landscape
2020s – No Champion to Start the Decade
Future of NCAA College Hockey

Take a moment to picture a game of ice hockey. There’s a good chance the first thought that went through your head just now was an image of a black disk sliding across a sheet of ice. Maybe it was a curved stick or a pair of skates? These are the images of the game as you know it. All modern sports have evolved to where they stand today; hockey was no exception.

The first game of modern hockey was played in 1875 but the true origin of hockey is a debate sports historians have been poring over for years. Long before hockey was invented, people have been playing some sort of group activity on grass or ice that involved hitting small objects with sticks toward a goal. Records dating back centuries can be found on just about all continents. To stretch back thousands of years, the International Hockey Federation references historical records about a crude form of the game played 4,000 years ago in Egypt.

In the more recent past, Europeans can lay claim to similar games in Ireland (called hurling) or Scotland (called shinty) where players drove a ball with a curved stick. These games were brought to North America in the 1700s. The English played a similar game and called it bandy or hockey. This specific game of hockey may have had the same name and was played on ice with skates as early as the 18th century, but it wasn’t the game of hockey as we know it.

British servicemen introduced ice skates to North America in the 1740s. Due to the growing number of skaters in North America and throughout the world in the 1800s, there are records of people playing hurling (or hurley), shinty (or shinny) and hockey on ice in Canada, America, England and Scotland during that century. All of these games played a part in creating the modern game of hockey. However, 1875 was the year when the true birth of hockey occurred.

Next: March 3, 1875 – Montreal