NCAA Hockey 101

By Tyler Hinds; former College hockey defenceman, Robert Morris University ’13 (@THinds3)

Many of us outside the USA are not as familiar with the NCAA college hockey scene so I wanted to take some time to highlight the 60 Division 1 programs and their respective conferences – a NCAA 101 so to speak. And as a former NCAA player myself, I feel like I have some insight as a non-American playing in the college ranks.

But first, check out this great hype video from RyanTheBeast29!

From as far east as Maine, to as far northwest as Alaska, and as far south as Alabama, NCAA college hockey programs have been pumping out young professionals for over 100 years. With the numbers on the rise (more than 30% of the current NHL player base came through NCAA competition) let’s learn a little more about the different conferences & teams…

Atlantic Hockey

With the schools largely based in the New England & Lake Erie region (minus Air Force – Colorado Springs, CO), Atlantic Hockey is a conference that is notorious for welcoming new programs making the jump into the Division 1 ranks. Schools in this conference are restricted to award 14 full scholarships amongst their entire team. This number is lower than most other divisions to compensate for the Academies (Army & Air Force) who must recruit with other incentives.

Schools: Air Force, American International College, Army, Bentley, Canisius, Holy Cross, Mercyhurst, Robert Morris, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), & Sacred Heart.

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Big Ten

Confusingly named at times, the Big Ten conference actually has 14 member schools, however, only 6 have NCAA hockey programs. The formation of this new conference for the 2013-2014 season was largely in part due to the inception of the Penn State hockey program a year prior.

Consequently Michigan, Michigan State, & Ohio State left the now extinct CCHA and Minnesota & Wisconsin left the WCHA, which was in desperate need of restructuring. Big Ten teams have 18 full scholarships available to distribute amongst their annual roster.

Schools: Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, & Wisconsin

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ECAC Hockey

For those looking for the opportunity to earn a top-notch education while playing college hockey, this is where you want to be. Stacked with 6 of the 8 recognized Ivy League schools, players that do not carry on with their hockey careers have an excellent opportunity to begin a young professional career. Many of these schools, however, do not offer scholarships and your tuition is largely based on financial aid which is derived from the net income of your family.

Schools: Brown, Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Quinnipiac, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), St. Lawrence, Union, & Yale.


Hockey East

Easily the conference with the least amount of travel, Hockey East has all of its schools nestled in the New England states with the exception of newcomer Notre Dame (South Bend, IN). Rumours swirl that Notre Dame is looking to join the Big Ten next season; a wise decision from a geographical standpoint but perhaps not in terms of competition. This conference has proven to be in a class of its own claiming 9 of the last 20 National Championships, 5 coming in the last 8 years. Common with most of the other conferences, Hockey East has 18 full scholarships per year to distribute at their discretion.

Schools: Boston College, Boston University, UConn, Maine, Massachusetts, UMass-Lowell, Merrimack, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Notre Dame, Providence, & Vermont.



Following the birth of the Big Ten conference, powerhouse teams from the WCHA & former CCHA decided to separate and form a new conference, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHA), fit to rival Hockey East. Spread throughout the northern mid-west states, any of this conference’s 7 teams could contend for a national championship on an annual basis. NCHC schools also have 18 full scholarships per year to distribute amongst the roster.

Schools: Colorado College, Denver, Miami (OH), Minnesota-Duluth, Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud, & Western Michigan



Student-athletes that commit to Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) schools need to be prepared for the travel as their conference takes them from Alabama, to Alaska, and everywhere else in between. The once-dominant conference has a completely new look after the CCHA folded and many of those member schools joined. WCHA schools also have 18 full scholarships available per year for their male hockey student-athletes.

Schools: Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State, & Northern Michigan


If you are lucky enough to receive an NCAA scholarship, understand that the experience will be incredibly demanding but tremendously rewarding. You will form lifelong friendships as you sweat, bleed, study, & cry your way through the life of a student-athlete. Spoken from experience, it will be the best 4 years of your young life!


Like this article? Check out Why Play College Hockey? by active RMU head coach Derek Schooley. Create your team for free to receive weekly divisional newsletters including a practice plan, skill video, animated drill, timely blog, & ProTip.

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