Champion spotlight: Rise of the ECAC


For years, the ECAC was looked on as one of the weaker conferences in college hockey. For one reason or another, the idea became popular that best of the ECAC couldn’t compete with the big bad teams of Hockey East, or the big-name schools from other conferences.

However, over the past few years, the hard work of the ECAC schools has proven this to be anything but true. Let’s take a look at how the ECAC has re-claimed their power:

The ECAC was started back in 1961, after Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and St. Lawrence were selected by the committee to take part in the 4 team tournament to decide a national champion. In doing so, the committee passed over several Boston-area schools, causing some controversy. As a result, the league decided to hold an eastern tournament the next season, thus forming the unofficial league consisting of 28 teams. After three seasons, the ECAC was divided into two separate conferences.

On came the 60’s and early 70’s, a time that many would call the golden days of the ECAC. Under legendary coach Ned Harkness, Cornell took home two national championships in four years (1967 & 1970). Boston University was next in line, hanging the banner for the next two years (1971 & 1972). Six years later, in 1978, BU would take their third title of the decade.

During that time, the conference was constantly changing. New Hampshire came up to Division 1, and joined the ECAC in 1966. Pennsylvania followed in their footsteps, doing the same thing in 1967. Army left for Division 2 in ’73, and Vermont jumped up to Division 1 in ’74. Finally, Pennsylvania dropped their program in ’78, and Maine hopped on board in ’79.

That same year, in 1979, the ECAC was split up into three divisions. Boston University, Boston College, Maine, Providence, Northeastern and New Hampshire formed the East division, while Colgate, Clarkson, Vermont, St. Lawrence and Rensselaer formed the West division. The Ivy schools made up the third. For a year, each division winner received automatic entrance into the tournament, with the best second-place team taking the fourth home seed.

1983 saw the last huge change for the ECAC, when the East division decided to leave the conference and form one of their own, after the Ivy schools threatened to break away beforehand. Army then rejoined the conference in 1984, playing a half-schedule. Then, divisions were abolished, leaving one full conference of twelve teams. The ECAC got the first laugh the following season, when RPI defeated Providence to take home the national championship.

Army began playing s full schedule like the rest of the league the following year, meaning that for the first time, the entire conference operated under an equal schedule.

Since then, a few minor changes have been made, with Union replacing Army in 1991, and Quinnipiac taking Vermont’s spot in 2005.

Apr 12, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Union Dutchmen forward Max Novak (18) celebrates his goal with forward Matt Hatch (15) against Minnesota Gophers goaltender Adam Wilcox (32) after defeating the Minnesota Gophers in the championship game of the Frozen Four college ice hockey tournament at Wells Fargo Center. Union defeated Minnesota, 7-4 to win the NCAA Championship. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In those years, Hockey East teams, as well as teams in the central and western US, such as Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Denver took control of the national tournament. It was during this time that the ECAC was a bit overlooked, as the focus sat with the teams from Hockey East and west of the ECAC.

More recently, in the later 2000’s the ECAC has reclaimed it’s pride. For years, the ECAC was picking up steam, until finally, in 2013, the conference took over. Yale defeated UMass Lowell, and Quinnipiac knocked out St. Cloud State to advance to the national championship game, meaning that an ECAC winner was inevitable. Yale defeated Quinnipiac with a powerful 4-0 shutout, taking home the conference’s first NCAA title since Harvard won it in 1989, and the first for Yale’s program.

The ECAC followed up with another national this past season, when Union defeated Minnesota 7-4 to take home the trophy, keeping it with the ECAC once again.

The ECAC has seen a boat-load of changes over the years, but it’s safe to say that it’s one of college hockey’s most cherished conferences. And for the league that “wasn’t quite as good” several years ago, they seem do be doing just fine now.

The ECAC’s rise to power was not a quick one, nor was it easy, but it’s been one heck of a ride.