Thursday, March 21, 2013

The 2013 WCHA Final Five

As we documented previously, the world of NCAA hockey is on the precipice of an upheaval never seen before, as two new conferences are being created for next season, the Big Ten Hockey Conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Both of these new conferences are springing to life at the expense of two existing conferences, the Central Collegiate Hockey Conference, which will cease to exist after 42 seasons, and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, which will be barely recognizable next season, with only Alaska - Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State remaining from this season, as six new members, five as refugees from the CCHA plus independent Alabama - Huntsville, join to create a heavily altered WCHA.

wcha photo: WCHA Logo wcha_logo.jpg

With those massive changes to the college hockey landscape, the faithful of both leagues will gather one final time to celebrate the history and tradition of their leagues, as they both hold their final league playoff championships this weekend, the CCHA at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and the WCHA at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The WCHA Final Five (which curiously features six teams) gets underway today with the quarterfinals at 2:00 Central when the #5 seeded Minnesota State Mavericks (making their first Final Five appearance in ten years) takes on the #4 seed Wisconsin Badgers followed by the #6 Colorado College Tigers, who pulled off the only upset of the first round playoffs last week when they eliminated the Denver University Pioneers (#13 nationally), facing the #3 University of North Dakota, who used to be the Fighting Sioux but are currently without an official nickname.

The winner of the early game will advance to take on the #1 seed St. Cloud State Huskies, fresh off their first MacNaughton Cup championship in school history, in the first semifinal on Friday at 2:00, followed by the second semifinal winner meeting with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, who shared the league championship with St. Cloud State and are currently the #1 ranked team in the nation in the USCHO.com poll, thanks to their undefeated 8-0 run through their non-conference schedule, which included wins over Michigan State (2), Canisius, Vermont (2), Air Force, Boston College and Notre Dame.

The two semifinal winners will meet on Saturday night in the championship game at 7:00 with the winner being awarded the Broadmoor Trophy.

WCHA Final Five photo WCHAFInalFive.jpg

The WCHA was formed in 1959, although the core group of schools came together back in 1951 in the old Midwest Collegiate Hockey League. Those first members were Colorado College, Denver, Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota and North Dakota.

With the formation of the WCHA proper in 1959, a post season tournament began each season, with games played at campus sites. The WCHA expanded in 1966 with the arrival of Minnesota - Duluth, 1969 when Wisconsin joined and again in 1971 when Notre Dame was added.

That lineup lasted until 1981 when Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Notre Dame all departed for the CCHA, only to have Michigan Tech rejoin the WCHA, bringing Northern Michigan with them.

1987-88 saw the creating of a single-site four team final tournament, held in St. Paul, but at the previous St. Paul Civic Center, built in 1972 as the home of the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association and known for it's clear boards.

1990 saw St. Cloud State join the WCHA, boosting the league up to now 10 teams, which led to the championship tournament expanding to five teams and adopting the name Final Five in 1992-93. Alaska-Anchorage joined the league in 1993. Northern Michigan left the WCHA in 1997 only to be replaced by Mankato State, now Minnesota State, in 1999.

After a period of stability, both Bemidji State and Nebraska - Omaha joined the league in 2010, which led to a now six team Final Five, which retained the name due to the schedule now consisting of five games.

wcha photo: WCHA WCHA.jpg
The WCHA jersey display at the Xcel Energy Center

Since it's creation in 1988, the tournament has been held in St. Paul, first at the Civic Center for six years before alternating with the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from 1994 to 1998. The Target Center in Minneapolis was host in 1999 and 2000 prior to the tournament returning to St. Paul for the first time since 1997 in 2001 with the completion of the brand new Xcel Energy Center, home of the NHL's Minnesota Wild, where it has remained through today, as it brings together some of the most passionate, dedicated fans of some of the fiercest rivals in a three day festival of exciting, dramatic hockey and chanting, singing and cheering fans that is not to be missed, which sadly will never be the same again.

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The WCHA Final Five at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center

Through 2012, absent Denver has won 15 tournament championships, Minnesota 14, North Dakota and Wisconsin 11 apiece, Michigan Tech 9 (with the last being back in 1981), Minnesota - Duluth 3, departees Northern Michigan 3 and Michigan State 2, with Colorado College and St. Cloud State each having won once.

Denver WCHA champions photo DenverWCHAChampions.jpg
Denver celebrates their Final Five title in 2008

WCHA members have won a record 37 national championships with 28 runner-up finishes, including the famous 2005 NCAA Frozen Four, at which all four teams were from the WCHA when Denver prevailed over North Dakota, Minnesota and Colorado College.

NCAA national champions from the WCHA include Michigan, with 9 total and 6 coming as members of the WCHA, Denver and North Dakota with 7 each, Wisconsin 6, Minnesota 5, Michigan Tech 3, Colorado College 2, Minnesota - Duluth 1 and both Northern Michigan and Michigan State each with 1 while a member of the WCHA.

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The most recent WCHA national champions, the Minnesota - Duluth Bulldogs in 2011

Noteworthy are the 15 winners of the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top player in American college hockey, to have come from the WCHA in the award's 32 year history, beginning with the very first winner, Neal Broten back in 1981. Subsequent winners from the WCHA include Tom Kurvers (1984), Bill Watson (1985), Chris Marinucci (1994), Junior Lessard (2004) and Jack Connolly (2012) from Minnesota - Duluth, Tony Hrkac (1987) and Ryan Duncan (2007) from North Dakota, Robb Stauber (1988), Brian Bonin (1996) and Jordan Leopold (2002) also of Minnesota, Peter Senja (2003) and Marty Sertich (2005) of Colorado College, Matt Carle (2006) from Denver and Blake Geoffrion (2010) of Wisconsin.

Broten Hobey Baker photo BrotenHobeyBaker.jpg
The first Hobey Baker winner, Neal Broten

To date over 400 players from the WCHA have gone on to play in the NHL, including such recognizable names as Glenn, Anderson, Red Berenson, Neal Broten, Chris Chelios, Dave Christian, Kevin Dineen, Bret Hedican, Brett Hull, Reed Larson, Scott Mellanby, James Patrick, Mike Ramsey, Gary Suter and goaltenders such as Ed Belfour, Tony Esposito, Curtis Joseph, Chico Resch and Mike Richter to go along with current stars Jonathan Towes, David Backes, Phil Kessel, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Dany, Heatley, Thomas Vanek, Matt Carle, Erik Johnson, Paul Stastny, Blake Wheeler, Matt Greene, Ryan Malone, Travis Zajac, Paul Martin, Mike Commodore, Drew Stafford, Matt Cullen, T. J. Oshie, Joe Pavelski, Keith Ballard, Matt Niskanen, Derek Stephan, Brian Elliot and Matt Read.

Today's featured jersey is a 1986-87 University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux Tony Hrkac jersey from the season he set the single season NCAA scoring record of 116 points, which still stands to this day.

This classic Fighting Sioux jersey is clearly derived from the traditional Chicago Blackhawks jersey, only with the Blackhawks red replaced by the Fighting Sioux green and with the "C" in the secondary logo replaced by an "S".

A much beloved style among Fighting Sioux fans, this style was first used in 1978 and lasted through 1993 when political correctness resulted in a "North Dakota word mark" style for a couple of seasons until stylized "geometric" Indian head was employed. While today's featured style came into being in 1984, the use of the "Blackhawks" crest dates back to 1971.

Hrkac was the leading scorer in the NCAA during the 1986-87 season and helped North Dakota win the national championship that same season while wearing today's featured jersey. His outstanding season was recognized with the 1987 Hobey Baker Award.

For the most complete history of North Dakota jerseys online, we highly recommend Sioux-Jersey.com.

North Dakota Sioux 1986-87 jersey, North Dakota Sioux 1986-87 jersey
North Dakota Sioux 1986-87 jersey, North Dakota Sioux 1986-87 jersey

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1991-92 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Larry Olimb jersey. Olimb holds the WCHA career record for Most Games Played with 1982 over the course of his career from 1988 to 1992. Olimb is also fifth in Minnesota scoring history and ranks first in career assists, even more impressive when you consider he played the majority of his games on defense.

The Golden Gophers began wearing the block "M" in 1972 and it has remained a constant on their home and road jerseys ever since, with only the odd alternate or throwback style opting for something different, and even then several of their gold third jerseys have also featured the block "M" as well.

For a look at the history of Golden Gopher jerseys, we suggest both GopherHockeyHistory.com and VintageMinnesotaHockey.com.

Minnesota Gophers 1991-92 jersey photo MinnesotaGophers1991-92F.jpg
Minnesota Gophers 1991-92 jersey photo MinnesotaGophers1991-92B.jpg

Today's video section tries to capture the excitement of the WCHA Final Five, beginning with a commercial promoting this year's tournament, the final one for the league as we know it.


Here, Blake Wheeler of Minnesota scores the most famous, unexpected goal in Final Five history.


Here, North Dakota fans make an annual event out of the Final Five.

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