Ahhh, the sweet, sweet smell of college hockey is in the air, and the NHL 100 plus games per season is underway, so I find it fitting, to discuss one of my favorite sports.
Coming from the trademarked 'State of Hockey' -- Minnesota -- I was privileged enough to remember the days of the Northstars before they went to Dallas, the Wild in their inaugural season, and being able to watch five, top-notch college hockey programs in, The University of North Dakota, the University of Minnesota, St. Cloud State University, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State University, Mankato, has made my love of the sport go above and beyond what most would consider normal -- I am a hockey fanatic and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
Because of my affiliation with UND (my alma matter), my bias is obvious.
I am a Golden Gopher hater.
As a college freshman in anticipation for the UND/UM series, I hunted down and killed a gopher, just to freeze it for the game.
At this point you may be asking yourself, why in the world did I have a dead gopher in the freezer?
The answer is simply, the home series against the Gophers warranted my disdain along with that of the thousands of other UND students, chucking frozen dead rodents on the ice, after the Fighting Sioux scored their first goal.
But the real reason for this column, and the real deal in college hockey lies within the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).
Not only has the WCHA produced 35 NCAA Division I titles (including the last five), they have continuously dominated the NCAA tournament as the runner up 27 times and have been represented overall 50 times, in the history of the NCAA ice hockey program.
The member schools, UND, UM, SCSU, MSUM, Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan Tech, University of Wisconsin, University of Alaska Anchorage, Colorado College and University of Denver also continue to produce some of the NHL's best players, and have a long standing tradition as one of the most revered hockey leagues in the nation.
There are over 350 past and present NHL'ers that claim roots in the WCHA.
Chris Chelios, defensemen for the Detriot Red Wings got his start at the University of Wisconsin, along with Phoenix Coyotes goalie Curtis Joseph. Goalie for the Florida Panthers Ed Belfour, New Jersey Devils center Zach Parise, Coyote defensemen Matt Jones, Edmonton Oiler defensemen Matt Greene, and Carolina Hurricane defensemen Mike Commodore all hail from UND; Bret Hedican a Minnesota-Duluth alum is currently with the Stanley Cup winning Hurricanes, and current Avalanche Paul Stasney was a DU standout.
What makes the WCHA different from other college hockey conferences?
One thing I believe, as a college hockey fan is that the conference has done a great job of promoting themselves, the quality of play and their rich history.
The next closest competitor to the WCHA in attendance, revenue and tradition is Hockey East, home of Maine, Boston University and Boston College.
The Easterners are catching on to college hockey, but with less fury than those of us stationed in 'prime states.'
Considered the most tenured school in college hockey Michigan is the only school in NCAA history that has won more titles than UND and DU, but due to a weaker conference, the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), the Wolverines have not been able to overcome the WCHA or Hockey East in post season play, winning their ninth and most recent title in 1998.
The upside is that Michigan keeps churning out NHL caliber players.
Maybe this history lesson will inspire some of you to become avid hockey fans, maybe it won't, but some things will remain constant, the WCHA will dominate the college hockey scene. Hockey East may take a few NCAA titles from us, but not without a fight and as long as I live the Golden Gophers will be loving referred to as the 'Golden Chokers.'