History of the WCHA

by Kurt Stutt/special to USCHO

The WCHA was born as the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League in 1951 by Colorado College, Denver, Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota and North Dakota. After two seasons, the league changed its name to the Western Intercollegiate Hockey League, which more aptly described its geographical location.

The league was the dominant force in college hockey throughout the 1950s, winning all but the 1954 NCAA Championship. Michigan won six titles in that decade alone. But in 1958 the conference broke up, due to a disagreement over recruiting practices. Minnesota and all three Michigan schools accused Denver, North Dakota and Colorado College of recruiting overage Canadians. This practice did not violate the league's (or the NCAA's) rules, but was not in the spirit of the league. In the end, the four 'M' schools would withdraw from the league. As a consequence, there was no league play during the 1958-59 season.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) was officially founded in 1959. All the schools agreed that the lack of a league hurt Western college hockey. This time, though, it would be a more informal association, allowing schools to schedule whatever opponents they wanted. Denver and Minnesota, still bitter over the previous year's feud, did not schedule each other and would not meet on the ice for over a decade.

The next seven seasons were dominated by Michigan Tech and Denver, who won four and three league titles, respectively. The conference expanded, adding Minnesota-Duluth in 1966, Wisconsin in 1969 and Notre Dame in 1971. The 1960s and 1970s would see overwhelming WCHA superiority in NCAA play, with the conference winning all the NCAA titles except for 1967, 1970-72 and 1978.

The WCHA became more formal in 1973, when the league office assumed all conference scheduling. A plan was passed in 1979 to split the conference into two divisions as a cost-cutting move, but was rescinded three months later. Then, in 1981, Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Notre Dame all defected to the CCHA. The loss of Michigan Tech was a double blow, as they took the MacNaughton Cup, presented to the WCHA Champion every year, along with them.

The WCHA survived as a six-team league, then expanded again in 1984 when Michigan Tech returned (with the MacNaughton Cup), and brought Northern Michigan with them. The same year saw the start of an interlocking schedule with Hockey East, which lasted for five seasons. All inter-conference games counted in each conference's standings.

Recent developments saw the adoption of a single-site final four (later, five) format for the tournament, starting with 1988 in St. Paul. St. Cloud State joined as the conference's ninth member in 1990. Northern Michigan won the 1991 NCAA Tournament and North Dakota won the 1997 tournament, the 30th title for the WCHA.

Alaska-Anchorage became the tenth conference member in 1993-94, the same season that Colorado College won the first of three consecutive league titles, the first team to do so and their first titles since the 1956-57 season. Following the end of the 1996-97 season, Northern Michigan departed the WCHA, rejoining the CCHA. Mankato State participated in the WCHA tournament for the first time the following season. In 1998, Mankato State was voted in as the league's newest member, beginning play in the fall of 1999.

Kurt Stutt maintains the College Hockey Historical Archives. See the CHHA for in-depth college hockey archival information.

WCHA Champions

Note: No league play in 1958-59 and no tournament was played until 1960. League was known as MCHL from 1951-52 to 1952-53, and the WIHL from 1953-54 to 1957-58.

Season   Regular Season       Tournament
2003-04  North Dakota         Minnesota
2002-03  Colorado College     Minnesota  
2001-02  Denver               Denver
2000-01  North Dakota         St. Cloud State
1999-00  Wisconsin            North Dakota
1998-99  North Dakota         Denver
1997-98  North Dakota         Wisconsin
1996-97  Minnesota/N.Dakota   North Dakota
1995-96  Colorado College     Minnesota  
1994-95  Colorado College     Wisconsin  
1993-94  Colorado College     Minnesota  
1992-93  Minnesota-Duluth     Minnesota  
1991-92  Minnesota            Northern Michigan  
1990-91  Northern Michigan    Northern Michigan  
1989-90  Wisconsin            Wisconsin  
1988-89  Minnesota            Northern Michigan  
1987-88  Minnesota            Wisconsin  
1986-87  North Dakota         North Dakota  
1985-86  Denver               Denver  
1984-85  Minnesota-Duluth     Minnesota-Duluth  
1983-84  Minnesota-Duluth     Minnesota-Duluth  
1982-83  Minnesota            Wisconsin  
1981-82  North Dakota         Wisconsin  
1980-81  Minnesota            Michigan Tech/Minnesota  
1979-80  North Dakota         Minnesota/North Dakota  
1978-79  North Dakota         Minnesota/North Dakota  
1977-78  Denver               Colorado College/Wisconsin  
1976-77  Wisconsin            Wisconsin  
1975-76  Michigan Tech        Michigan Tech/Minnesota  
1974-75  Minnesota            Michigan Tech/Minnesota  
1973-74  Michigan Tech        Michigan Tech/Minnesota  
1972-73  Denver               Denver/Wisconsin  
1971-72  Denver               Denver/Wisconsin  
1970-71  Michigan Tech        Denver/Minnesota  
1969-70  Minnesota            Michigan Tech/Wisconsin  
1968-69  Michigan Tech        Denver/Michigan Tech  
1967-68  Denver               Denver/North Dakota  
1966-67  North Dakota         Michigan State/North Dakota  
1965-66  Michigan Tech        Denver/Michigan State  
1964-65  North Dakota         Michigan Tech  
1963-64  Michigan             Denver  
1962-63  Denver/North Dakota  Denver  
1961-62  Michigan Tech        Michigan Tech  
1960-61  Denver               Denver/Michigan
1959-60  Denver               Denver/Michigan Tech
1957-58  North Dakota/Denver
1956-57  Colorado College  
1955-56  Michigan  
1954-55  Colorado College  
1953-54  Minnesota  
1952-53  Minnesota/Michigan
1951-52  Colorado College

WCHA Major Award Winners

Player of the Year

Note: Prior to the 1992-93 season this award was for Most Valuable Player. No award presented for 1959-60 and 1963-64.

2003-04  Junior Lessard, F, Minnesota-Duluth
2002-03  Peter Sejna, F, Colorado College
2001-02  Mark Hartigan, F, St. Cloud State
2000-01  Jeff Panzer, F, North Dakota
1999-00  Steve Reinprecht, F, Wisconsin
1998-99  Jason Blake, F, North Dakota
1997-98  Curtis Murphy, D, North Dakota
1996-97  Mike Crowley, D, Minnesota
1995-96  Brian Bonin, F, Minnesota
1994-95  Brian Bonin, F, Minnesota
1993-94  Chris Marinucci, F, Minnesota-Duluth
1992-93  Derek Plante, F, Minnesota-Duluth
1991-92  Duane Derksen, G, Wisconsin
1990-91  Scott Beattie, F, Northern Michigan
1989-90  Gary Shuchuk, F, Wisconsin
1988-89  Curtis Joseph, G, Wisconsin
1987-88  Robb Stauber, G, Minnesota
1986-87  Tony Hrkac, F, North Dakota
1985-86  Dallas Gaume, F, Denver
1984-85  Bill Watson, F, Minnesota-Duluth
1983-84  Tom Kurvers, D, Minnesota-Duluth
1982-83  Bob Mason, G, Minnesota-Duluth
1981-82  Phil Sykes, F, North Dakota
1980-81  Steve Ulseth, F, Minnesota
1979-80  Tim Harrer, F, Minnesota
1978-79  Mark Johnson, F, Wisconsin
1977-78  Mike Eaves, F, Wisconsin
1976-77  Brian Walsh, F, Notre Dame
1975-76  Mike Zuke, F, Michigan Tech
1974-75  Mike Polich, F, Minnesota
         Tom Ross, F, Michigan State
1973-74  Doug Palazzari, F, Colorado College
1972-73  Ron Grahame, G, Denver
1971-72  Doug Palazzari, F, Colorado College
1970-71  Rob Murray, D, Michigan Tech
1969-70  Murray McLachlan, G, Minnesota
1968-69  Murray McLachlan, G, Minnesota
1967-68  Keith Magnuson, D, Denver
1966-67  Keith Christiansen, F, Minnesota-Duluth
1965-66  Mel Wakabayashi, F, Michigan
1964-65  Gerry Kell, F, North Dakota
1962-63  Louis Nanne, D, Minnesota
1961-62  Gordon "Red" Berenson, F, Michigan
1960-61  Jerry Walker, F, Denver

Rookie of the Year

Award known as Sophomore of the Year prior to 1970-71 and as Freshman of the Year from 1969-70 to 1989-90. Both were presented in 1969-70.

2003-04  Brady Murray, F, North Dakota
2002-03  Thomas Vanek, F, Minnesota
2001-02  Brandon Bochenski, F, North Dakota
2000-01  Peter Sejna, F, Colorado College
1999-00  Dany Heatley, F, Wisconsin
1998-99  Gregg Naumenko, G, Alaska-Anchorage
1997-98  Karl Goehring, G, North Dakota
1996-97  Brant Nicklin, G, Minnesota-Duluth
1995-96  Brian Swanson, F, Colorado College
1994-95  Mike Crowley, D, Minnesota
1993-94  Landon Wilson, C, North Dakota
1992-93  Jim Carey, G, Wisconsin
1991-92  Darby Hendrickson, F, Minnesota
1990-91  Tony Szabo, F, Northern Michigan
1989-90  Scott Beattie, F, Northern Michigan
1988-89  Curtis Joseph, G, Wisconsin
1987-88  Rick Berens, F, Denver
1986-87  Dave Shields, F, Denver
1985-86  Mike Richter, G, Wisconsin
1984-85  Brett Hull, F, Minnesota-Duluth
1983-84  Rick Kosti, G, Minnesota-Duluth
1982-83  Craig Redmond, D, Denver
1981-82  James Patrick, D, North Dakota
1980-81  Ron Scott, G, Michigan State
1979-80  Aaron Broten, F, Minnesota
1978-79  Kevin Maxwell, F, North Dakota
1977-78  Greg Whyte, F, Colorado College
1976-77  Mark Johnson, F, Wisconsin
1975-76  Dave Delich, F, Colorado College
1974-75  Jim Warner, F, Colorado College
1973-74  Brian Walsh, F/D, Notre Dame
1972-73  Mike Zuke, F, Michigan Tech
1971-72  Alan Hangsleben, D, North Dakota
1970-71  Mike Usitalo, F, Michigan Tech
1969-70  Murray Keogan, F, Minnesota-Duluth (Freshman of the Year)
         Don Thompson, F, Michigan State (Sophomore of the Year)
1968-69  George Morrison, F, Denver
1967-68  Murray McLachlan, G, Minnesota
1966-67  Keith Magnuson, D, Denver
         Bob Munro, F, North Dakota
1965-66  Gary Gambucci, F, Minnesota
1964-65  Gary Milroy, F, Michigan Tech
1963-64  Tom Polonic, D, Michigan
1962-63  George Hill, F, Michigan Tech
1961-62  Gordon Wilkie, F, Michigan
1960-61  Jack Wilson, D, Denver
1959-60  Lou Angotti, F, Michigan Tech
         George Kirkwood, G, Denver

Coach of the Year

2003-04  Scott Sandelin, Minnesota-Duluth
2002-03  Troy Jutting, Minnesota State
2001-02  George Gwozdecky, Denver
2000-01  Dean Blais, North Dakota
1999-00  Don Brose, Minnesota State
1998-99  Dean Blais, North Dakota
1997-98  Craig Dahl, St. Cloud State
1996-97  Dean Blais, North Dakota
1995-96  Don Lucia, Colorado College
1994-95  George Gwozdecky, Denver
1993-94  Don Lucia, Colorado College
1992-93  Mike Sertich, Minnesota-Duluth
1991-92  Brad Buetow, Colorado College
1990-91  Rick Comley, Northern Michigan
1989-90  Doug Woog, Minnesota
1988-89  Rick Comley, Northern Michigan
1987-88  Herb Boxer, Michigan Tech
1986-87  Gino Gasparini, North Dakota
1985-86  Ralph Backstrom, Denver
1984-85  Mike Sertich, Minnesota-Duluth
1983-84  Mike Sertich, Minnesota-Duluth
1982-83  Mike Sertich, Minnesota-Duluth
1981-82  Gino Gasparini, North Dakota
1980-81  John Giordano, Michigan
1979-80  Brad Buetow, Minnesota
1978-79  Gino Gasparini, North Dakota
1977-78  Marshall Johnston, Denver
1976-77  Bob Johnson, Wisconsin
1975-76  John MacInnes, Michigan Tech
1974-75  Jeff Sauer, Colorado College
1973-74  Herb Brooks, Minnesota
1972-73  Lefty Smith, Notre Dame
1971-72  Jeff Sauer, Colorado College
1970-71  John MacInnes, Michigan Tech
1969-70  Glen Sonmor, Minnesota
1968-69  John Matchefts, Colorado College
1967-68  Murray Armstrong, Denver
1966-67  Bill Selman, North Dakota
1965-66  John MacInnes, Michigan Tech
1964-65  Bob Peters, North Dakota
1963-64  Al Renfrew, Michigan
1962-63  Barry Thorndycraft, North Dakota
1961-62  John MacInnes, Michigan Tech
1960-61  Murray Armstrong, Denver
1959-60  John MacInnes, Michigan Tech

Most Valuable Player in Tournament

2004  Kellen Briggs, G, Minnesota
2003  Grant Potulny, F, Minnesota
2002  Wade Dubielewicz, G, Denver
2001  Tyler Arnason, F, St. Cloud State
2000  Lee Goren, F, North Dakota
1999  Stephen Wagner, G, Denver
1998  Joe Bianchi, F, Wisconsin
1997  David Hoogsteen, F, North Dakota
1996  Brian Bonin, F, Minnesota
1995  Kirk Daubenspeck, G, Wisconsin
1994  Chris McAlpine, D, Minnesota
1993  Travis Richards, D, Minnesota
1992  Corwin Saurdiff, G, Northern Michigan
1991  Bill Pye, G, Northern Michigan
1990  Steve Rohlik, F, Wisconsin
1989  Bill Pye, G, Northern Michigan
1988  Dean Anderson, G, Wisconsin

Defensive Player of the Year

2003-04  Ryan Caldwell, D, Denver
2002-03  Joe Cullen, F, Colorado College
         Aaron MacKenzie, D, Denver
2001-02  Jordan Leopold, D, Minnesota
2000-01  Jordan Leopold, D, Minnesota
1999-00  Jeff Dessner, D, Wisconsin
1998-99  Brad Williamson, D, North Dakota
1997-98  Matt Henderson, F, North Dakota
         Andy Sutton, D, Michigan Tech
1996-97  Eric Rud, D, Colorado College
1995-96  Eric Rud, D, Colorado College
1994-95  Brian Rafalski, D, Wisconsin
1993-94  Shawn Reid, D, Colorado College
1992-93  Chris Hynnes, D, Colorado College
1991-92  Dallas Drake, F, Northern Michigan

Goaltender of the Year

Note: No longer awarded.

1988-89 Robb Stauber, Minnesota
1987-88 Robb Stauber, Minnesota

Student-Athlete of the Year

2003-04  Connor James, F, Denver
2002-03  Tom Preissing, D, Colorado College
2001-02  Mark Cullen, F, Colorado College
2000-01  Karl Goehring, G, North Dakota
1999-00  Jeff Scissons, F, Minnesota-Duluth 
1998-99  Kyle McLaughlin, D, St. Cloud State
         Scott Swanson, D, Colorado College
1997-98  Mitch Vig, D, North Dakota
1996-97  Petri Gunther, D, Denver
1995-96  Dan Trebil, D, Minnesota
1994-95  Justin McHugh, F, Minnesota
1993-94  Brian Konowalchuk, F, Denver
         Jeff Nielsen, F, Minnesota
1992-93  Brett Hauer, D, Minnesota-Duluth
1991-92  Geoff Sarjeant, G, Michigan Tech
1990-91  Brad Werenka, D, Northern Michigan
1989-90  Dave Shields, F, Denver
1988-89  Tim Budy, F, Colorado College
1987-88  Steve Johnson, F, North Dakota
1986-87  Tony Granato, F, Wisconsin

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