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NCAA Hockey and Canadian University Hockey

A primer on college hockey.


Alyssa Grogan of the Minnesota Gophers celebrates after winning the 2012 NCAA Women's Frozen Four.

Alyssa Grogan of the Minnesota Gophers celebrates after winning the championship game of the 2012 NCAA Women's Frozen Four against the Wisconsin Badgers. The Gophers defeated the Badgers 4-2.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

NCAA Hockey in the USA

Over 130 schools play NCAA men's hockey, divided into three competitive divisions.

In Division I, the national championship is decided by a 16-team, single-elimination bracket, with a format similar to the NCAA basketball tournament.

There are five conferences, so five schools qualify for the national tournament by winning conference titles. The field is completed with 11 at-large berths, awarded by a selection committee.

Early rounds of the tournament are played at regional locations, with the top four advancing to the "Frozen Four" weekend to decide a national champion.

Other tiers of men's hockey are Division II and Division III.

In NCAA women's hockey, the top level of competition is known as National Collegiate. It has four regional conferences. To determine a national champion, the four regional champions plus four at-large teams play a single-elimination bracket, culminating with the "Women's Frozen Four" weekend.

A lower tier of women's hockey is called Division III, with five conferences and a similar national championship format.

How Good Is The Game?

NCAA men's hockey has been played since 1948, with rivalries and traditions dating back to those early days.

Games in hockey hotbeds like Boston, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Michigan feature all the color and student hysteria typically associated with a BCS game or March Madness showdown.

With many of its best players going on to the NHL or other pro careers, the skill level of the men's game is arguably as high as it's ever been, rivaling the quality of play in the Canadian Hockey League.

Women's hockey has a much shorter history, having become an NCAA sport in 2001. But it's the primary destination for North America's top college-aged players.

Arena capacities for Division I schools vary widely, from 1,400 (Holy Cross) to 17,500 (Ohio State).

How Much Are Tickets?

In some markets a Division I NCAA men's hockey game can be seen for $10 to $15, though in big hockey markets a more typical price range is $20 to $40. Women's games will be cheaper than men's.

Who Are the Players?

With generous athletic scholarships, NCAA schools recruit some of the top young players in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

At the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, about one-third of the players selected came from the NCAA.

NCAA women's hockey is a major source of players for national teams competing at the Winter Olympics and World Women's Hockey Championship.

Like all NCAA athletes, hockey players are required to preserve their amateur status. Anyone who has played professionally is ineligible.

The Canadian Hockey League, considered the highest and most competitive level of junior hockey, is considered professional by the NCAA. A player who dresses for a CHL game is ineligible for the NCAA.

But the American junior system, which includes the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League, is considered amateur by the NCAA. Players from those leagues are often recruited by NCAA schools.

University Hockey in Canada

The Canadian counterpart of the NCAA is Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), which includes men's and women's ice hockey among its varsity sports.

(Wikipedia notes that "in Canadian English, the term 'college' is reserved for schools that would be called 'junior', 'community', or 'technical' colleges in the U.S.")

As in the NCAA, schools under the CIS are divided into regional conferences. Each conference holds a regular season and postseason to determine its champion. The conference winners then meet in a season-ending tournament for the national title.

Unlike in the NCAA, all CIS schools compete at the same level, without being segregated into competitive divisions based on size, budget, etc.

How Good Is The Game?

The overall skill level is considered to be a step below NCAA Division I and Canadian Major Junior Hockey.

The CIS does not permit athletic scholarships. So the very best Canadian college players tend to accept scholarships at NCAA schools. But the absence of athletic scholarships also means that all CIS universities are on a relatively equal footing.

How Much Are Tickets?

In most communities, a CIS game can be seen for $5 to $12.

Who Are the Players?

Along with players recruited from high schools, a primary pipeline for CIS players is the Canadian Hockey League, which represents the top level of junior hockey in the country.

Anyone who has dressed for a Canadian Hockey League game is ineligible to play in the NCAA. So those not destined for pro hockey often enroll in Canadian universities when their junior eligibility ends at the age of 20. CHL teams encourage this progress with scholarships for graduating players.

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