Every college sport has its powerhouse conference. For football, it’s the SEC. For basketball, it’s the ACC. For hockey, it’s the Hockey East.
In case you didn’t watch the NCAA finals last night, Providence bested No. 3 Boston University, 4-3, to score its first national championship trophy. The game was an absolute thriller and stayed close until the very last second.
There are a few rather obvious takeaways from last night’s game. For starters, Providence won its first national championship by downing one of the best teams in the country. Another was that both teams played their hearts out in the closest NCAA finals game since 2011. And a third rather cringeworthy takeaway was that even top-level goalies are prone to enormous blunders.
These takeaways are undoubtedly fair and well founded. However, there’s one less obvious takeaway from last night’s game—one that requires looking at the bigger picture---and that is that the Hockey East is the strongest hockey conference in the NCAA.
The two teams that played the strongest, and thus made it the furthest, in the NCAA tournament were Boston University and Providence College—both members of the Hockey East. And since both the teams that played in the finals belonged to the Hockey East, yes, you guessed it—a team from the Hockey East won the NCAA national championship.
A Hockey East team winning the NCAA national championship certainly isn’t an anomaly, too. In fact, five of the last ten NCAA national champions have been Hockey East teams. In other words, in the past decade, half of the NCAA national champions have been Hockey East teams.
Even outside the context of the playoffs, the Hockey East tends to hold its own in the regular season. For example, in the most recent USCHO.com poll on March 23rd, five of the twenty ranked teams (No. 2 Boston University, No. 12 Boston College, No. 14 UMass Lowell, No. 15 Providence, and No. 19 Vermont) belonged to the Hockey East.
As for the teams not ranked in the most recent poll? Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Merrimack, New Hampshire, Northeastern, and Notre Dame—all relatively formidable teams—fill those spots.
How about awards? The Hobey Baker Award, hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, went to Jack Eichel of Boston University this year and to Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau of Boston College last year.
The Tim Taylor Award, which honors the Division I NCAA rookie of the year, also went to Jack Eichel this year, and has, since its inception at the conclusion of the 2006-2007 season, gone to nine players, five of whom have hailed from the Hockey East.
The Mike Richter award, which honors the most outstanding goaltender in Division I NCAA hockey, has gone to two players since its genesis in 2014. The first of the two players, Connor Hellebuyck of UMass Lowell, snagged this prestigious award.
And lastly, six different Hockey East players, Jack Eichel, Matt Grzelcyk, Jon Gillies, Mike Paliotta, Robbie Russo and Kevin Roy, were selected as CCM Hockey All-Americans for the 2014-2015 season.
Whether in the postseason, regular season, or with regard to awards, the Hockey East has been dominant, especially in recent years.
But before one, perhaps pompously, concludes that the Hockey East is the best NCAA hockey conference, it would be ridiculous to not, at the very least, acknowledge the likes of other robust conferences like the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) and the Big Ten.
All of these conferences—sometimes unfairly hindered by their smaller sizes, as is the case with the Big Ten—are unquestionably competitive, hold their fair share of accolades and have plenty of teams that dominate the regular season and manage to win NCAA national championships.
Yet, when all is said and done, the Hockey East is just too powerful of a conference to be dethroned. Right now, the Hockey East is the best conference in NCAA Division I hockey. However, with such dynamic conferences in its peripherals, the Hockey East has no room to rest on its laurels.
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