The NCAA has sponsored men’s college hockey since 1948. Over 150 four-year institutions and 6 junior colleges now offer men’s college hockey primarily in the Northeast and upper Midwest regions. One of the smallest men’s sports leagues in the NCAA, ice hockey is offered across multiple conferences at the Division 1 and 3 level, with only a single conference of seven schools, the Northeast-10 Conference, making up the Division 2 level. Outside of the NCAA, men’s college hockey is also played at NAIA institutions. This section breaks down ice hockey colleges at all three NCAA Divisions and goes into further detail about NAIA hockey programs.
Men’s hockey is one of the smallest leagues sponsored by the NCAA with 148 total programs across all three divisions.
While men’s college hockey has not been sponsored by the NAIA since the last National Ice Hockey Championship in 1984, there are currently nine NAIA institutions with hockey programs. Previously governed by the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), all NAIA Division hockey programs are now governed by the NAIA Hockey Coaches Association.
In 2014, a group of coaches and athletic administrators came together to establish the NAIA Hockey Coaches Association and, with the help of the NAIA, began working toward their goal to reinstate ice hockey as a champion NAIA sport. As the sole governing body of the NAIA Division, the NAIA Hockey Coaches Association oversee operations and organizes a national championship, while promoting the growth of college hockey at NAIA institutions.
The American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) is a men’s and women’s collegiate hockey organization that governs five divisions with over 500 varsity and club level teams in 49 states. Dedicated to supporting and regulating intercollegiate hockey programs in the United States, the ACHA was an early supporter of the NAIA Hockey Coaches Association and its mission to return hockey as a NAIA championship sport.
Working together, the two associations established a new division, the NAIA Division. The ACHA governed this new division through the inaugural 2017-18 season. As a result of the ACHA’s support in of the NAIA Division’s initial season, the NAIA Hockey Coaches Association was able to take over governance at the beginning of the 2018-19 season and continue its journey to re-establishing hockey as a sponsored NAIA sport.
There are 60 NCAA Division 1 hockey teams scattered about the Northeast and Upper Midwest regions of the United States. Each team competes in one of six conferences; Atlantic Hockey, Big 10, ECAC, Hockey East, NCHC and WCHA. The only exception to this is Arizona State, which are classified as a Division 1 Independent after transitioning from an ACHA club hockey team to a full varsity team in 2016.
Each week, the NCAA updates the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey rankings. These rankings are determined by two human polls, the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports poll and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll and solely compare schools based on their athletic programs.
For a more well-rounded view of Division 1 men’s ice hockey colleges, check out NCSA’s Power Rankings. Rather than focusing exclusively on a school’s athletic record, NCSA analyzes current student-athletes search activity, general academic rankings, and graduations rate and cost of college after aid reports to build a list of the best D1 colleges for men’s college hockey.
The NCAA has not sponsored a Division 2 Men’s Ice Hockey Championship since 1999, due to a lack of sponsoring programs. As a result, there is only one collegiate athletic conference that sponsors NCAA’s Division II level hockey, the Northeast-10 Conference. There are seven programs in the Northeast-10, across Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.
Division 3 programs may not offer athletic scholarships, but student-athletes shouldn’t overlook this division. The NCAA offers the largest number of opportunities to play college hockey at the Division 3 level. In all, there at 81 Division 3 men’s college hockey programs spread out across the Northeast and Upper Midwest regions.
What Division 3 men’s hockey teams rank the highest? Student-athletes can check out the NCAA’s rankings each week to see how the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports poll and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine rank each team.
For student-athletes looking for a more comprehensive ranking system that factors in aspects outside of athletics, check out NCSA’s Power Rankings. NCSA looks beyond athletics to include important data on size, location, cost and academic to produce a list of the best Division 3 ice hockey colleges.
After the conclusion of the 1984 NAIA men’s national ice hockey championship, the association discontinued sponsorship due to the large number of NAIA programs that were making the move to NCAA schools.
In 2016, the NAIA Hockey Coaches Association teamed up with ACHA leadership to form the new NAIA Division that included all NAIA varsity hockey programs. This division was governed by the ACHA for the inaugural 2017-18 season. The NAIA Hockey Coaches Association announced in January 2018 that it would replace the ACHA as the sole governing body of the NAIA Division at the start of the 2018-19 season. This change in governance is part of a larger plan lead by the North American Intercollegiate Hockey Association (NAIHA) in tandem with the NAIA Hockey Coaches Association to restoring hockey as a championship sport status under the NAIA.
The NAIA requires a sport to be sponsored by a minimum of 40 varsity institutions, complete in at least two National invitational and receive approval from the NAC before it can gain national championship status. With nine NAIA Division hockey teams, the NAIHA and NAIA Hockey Coaches Association aim to continue growing and developing varsity intercollegiate hockey programs at NAIA institutions with the end goal to achieve championship status within the NAIA.
The NCJAA hosted the last men’s ice hockey national championship in 2017. After 45 years of governing hockey at junior colleges, the association decided to dissolve the program due to lack of growth.
Division 1: 57 teams in 7 conferences
Division 2: 200 teams in 12 conferences
Division 3: 140 teams in 10 conferences
Club hockey programs are governed by the American Collegiate Hockey Association and are usually self-managed under the school’s rec sports department. The ACHA’s vast number of club hockey programs can be found across the nation on the East and West Coasts, as well as the Midwest.
ACHA programs typically attract student-athletes who want to continue competing at a lower level than the NCAA, late bloomers and athletes that NCAA coaches looked over. To make the team, student-athletes typically have to try out for a spot, though these programs are inclusive of different skill levels. On average, ACHA teams practice three to four times a week and compete in home and away games on the weekends.
Selecting the right college fit require more than just finding the right athletic fit for a student-athlete. At NCSA, we understand that athletes are looking for a school that checks all the boxes athletically, academically, socially and financially. To help with the decision-making process, we’ve designed our Power Rankings, which factor in size, location, academics, cost and athletics to identify the best ice hockey colleges.