MINNEAPOLIS — After North Dakota won a trio of NCAA titles in the 1980s, Gino Gasparini’s then-Fighting Sioux were widely regarded as college hockey’s “program of the decade” and have the banners to back up the claim. With a pair of NCAA crowns and dominance in the CCHA in the 1990s, one can make the case that the decade belonged to Michigan. So, as one looks back on college hockey in the 2010s we are taking a stab at determining who “won” the 10-year span.
We attempted a more objective approach to our rankings, laying out a numeric value for six different team accomplishments for which programs routinely hang banners, as follows:
National championship — 5 points
National runner-up — 3 points
Frozen Four appearance — 2 points
NCAA tournament appearance — 1 point
Conference regular season title — 3 points
Conference playoff title — 2 points
A few notes on our methods:
In conference play, we award more points for a regular season title (won over the course of several months) than for a playoff title (won over the course of four or five games).
If two (or three, in the case of Hockey East in 2017) teams tied for a conference title, they each get three points.
While individual awards, like the Hobey Baker, are a feather in the cap of a hockey program and a potential banner-hanger, we made this solely about team accomplishments.
With all of that in mind, here are the top 10 college hockey programs of the 2010s:
1. Boston College, 49 points (National championships: 2, National runners-up: 0, Frozen Fours: 4, NCAA tournament appearances: 7, Hockey East regular season titles: 6, Hockey East playoff titles: 3) — The Eagles didn’t even make the NCAA’s field of 16 over the past three seasons of the decade, but that was clearly an outlier among the work that Jerry York’s program did in the early 2010s. They were the power not just in the East, but nation-wide with national titles in 2010 and 2012, as well as winning six of the decade’s 10 Hockey East crowns. This after they made a strong case for “program of the 2000s” as well.
2. Minnesota Duluth, 37 points (National championships: 3, National runners-up: 1, Frozen Fours: 4, NCAA tournament appearances: 7, NCHC/WCHA regular season titles: 0, NCHC/WCHA playoff titles: 2) — Two numbers stood out about the Bulldogs in the past decade: three NCAA titles, and zero conference regular season titles. Scott Sandelin’s crew was the ultimate “turn it on at the right time” team in the 2010s, epitomized by 2018 when they needed a statistical miracle just to get into the NCAA playoffs as the final at-large seed, then promptly beat Minnesota State University-Mankato, Air Force, Ohio State and Notre Dame to hang the biggest banner.
3. North Dakota, 36 points (National championships: 1, National runners-up: 0, Frozen Fours: 4, NCAA tournament appearances: 8, NCHC/WCHA regular season titles: 3, NCHC/WCHA playoff titles: 3) — The eighth NCAA title banner was a long time coming for the high-expectation fans of the Fighting Hawks, but the night they painted Tampa green won’t soon be forgotten. The program underwent a coaching change in the decade, and Brad Berry immediately won that national title, then missed the final two NCAA tournaments of the decade, but that is looking like an anomaly this season.
4. (tie) Union, 32 points (National championships: 1, National runners-up: 0, Frozen Fours: 2, NCAA tournament appearances: 5, ECAC regular season titles: 4, ECAC playoff titles: 3) — After the ECAC made few big impressions on the national stage in the 2000s, the notion that the ECAC was a “lesser” league was dispelled in a big way this decade, with the Dutchmen making the biggest splash in 2014 when they knocked off Minnesota for the program’s first NCAA title. But they were far from one-hit-wonders, getting to the Frozen Four twice and claiming a quartet of conference regular season titles on the way.
4. (tie) Minnesota, 32 points (National championships: 0, National runners-up: 1, Frozen Fours: 2, NCAA tournament appearances: 5, Big Ten/WCHA regular season titles: 6, Big Ten/WCHA playoff titles: 1) — When Don Lucia retired after the 2018 season, he left a legacy that included a pair of NCAA titles in the 2000s and a NCAA record six consecutive conference regular season titles that his teams won in the past decade. Still, the loss to Union in the 2014 title game and the failure to win a NCAA playoff game in 2017, when the Gophers were a top seed in their regional, cranked up the noise among fans of the program that it was time for a change.
6. Denver, 31 points (National championships: 1, National runners-up: 0, Frozen Fours: 3, NCAA tournament appearances: 10, NCHC/WCHA regular season titles: 2, NCHC/WCHA playoff titles: 2) — If you’re looking for a model of consistent competitiveness in a college hockey program, cast your eyes to where they sun sets behind the Front Range. The Pioneers were the only team to make an appearance in the NCAA playoffs in each year of the decade, and they did it while employing three different coaches — George Gwozdecky, Jim Montgomery and David Carle. The Pioneers also added the program’s eighth NCAA title banner in 2017.
7. Quinnipiac, 29 points (National championships: 0, National runners-up: 2, Frozen Fours: 2, NCAA tournament appearances: 5, ECAC regular season titles: 4, ECAC playoff titles: 1) — The “glass is half empty” crowd will point to the fact that the Bobcats fell twice in the national title game, including in 2013 when they were the prohibitive favorites and were blanked by neighborhood rival Yale in Pittsburgh. The optimist will see a decade when Rand Pecknold’s team established itself as an every year contender in their conference and a regular in the NCAA tournament.
8. Notre Dame, 25 points (National championships: 0, National runners-up: 1, Frozen Fours: 3, NCAA tournament appearances: 7, CCHA/Hockey East/Big Ten regular season titles: 1, CCHA/Hockey East/Big Ten playoff titles: 3) — If you were to call the Irish a conference power, you would first have to note which conference, as they played in three of them during the 2010s. They had their most noted success in the Big Ten, winning three of the four titles up for grabs in their first two seasons there. The great missed opportunity for Jeff Jackson and company came in 2018, when they were the national title favorites and fell to Minnesota Duluth in the championship game.
9. (tie) St. Cloud State, 23 points (National championships: 0, National runners-up: 0, Frozen Fours: 1, NCAA tournament appearances: 7, NCHC/WCHA regular season titles: 4, NCHC/WCHA playoff titles: 1) — The Huskies made huge strides as a program in the 2010s, most notably making it to the Frozen Four for the first time in 2013 under Bob Motzko. They were a regular in the NCAA playoffs, which is a good thing, but were upset as the top seed both in 2018 by Air Force (in Motzko’s final game at the helm), and in 2019 by AIC under new coach Brett Larson. Still, hockey is the shining star in an athletic department going through fiscal struggles.
9. (tie) Minnesota State Mankato, 23 points (National championships: 0, National runners-up: 0, Frozen Fours: 0, NCAA tournament appearances: 5, WCHA regular season titles: 4, WCHA playoff titles: 3) — The easy joke is that the tags on the Mavericks’ jerseys say “best before March 20, 201x” as MSU has been the consummate regular season power in the new WCHA, but notoriously went 0-5 in the NCAA playoffs over the past decade. This included notable upsets like the 2015 loss to RIT (when the Mavericks were the top overall seed), and last season, when their “reward” for winning the WCHA regular season and playoff titles was a trip to Providence to play ... Providence.
Others receiving points: Boston University 20, UMass-Lowell 19, Michigan 19, Providence 18, Miami 17, RIT 17, Yale 17, Ferris State 16, Air Force 15, Cornell 13, Harvard 13, Wisconsin 12, Massachusetts 10, Michigan Tech 10, Robert Morris 9, Ohio State 8, Northeastern 7, AIC 6, Canisius 6, Mercyhurst 6, New Hampshire 6, Western Michigan 5, Bemidji State 4, Clarkson 4, Niagara 4, Nebraska Omaha 4, Penn State 4, Princeton 3, Vermont 2, Alabama Huntsville 1, Alaska 1*, Arizona State 1, Bowling Green 1, Colgate 1, Colorado College 1, Maine 1, Merrimack 1, Michigan State 1, Northern Michigan 1, RPI 1.
* — The Nanooks participation in the 2010 NCAA tournament was later vacated.