The NCAA Frozen Four: Does Experience Matter?

Since the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2003, twelve championship trophies have been awarded to nine different teams (Boston College won three times over that span; Denver twice). I took a look back to see if tournament (and particularly Frozen Four) experience played a role in a team’s success the following year.

In the first six years of the 16-team format (2003-08), five of the six national champions had played in the NCAA tournament the year before, with three of those appearing in the previous season’s Frozen Four.

In 2009, Boston University began a run of six consecutive national championship teams which had not advanced beyond the regionals the previous season. Furthermore, only two of the last six champions appeared in the NCAA tournament the year before claiming college hockey’s top prize.

This speaks directly to the parity that we’ve seen in college hockey over that same stretch of seasons. In fact, three of the last four national champions are first-time winners (Union, Yale, and Minnesota-Duluth). Prior to that stretch, the teams claiming the trophy in the first eight years of the new format were programs with storied histories like Boston College, Boston University, Denver, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Here’s a look at how experience has played (or not played) a role in determining the last twelve national champions:

Year Champion NCAAs Previous Year Frozen Four Previous Year NCAAs Previous Three Years Frozen Fours Previous Three Years
2014 Union Yes 3 1
2013 Yale 2 0
2012 Boston College Yes 2 1
2011 Minnesota-Duluth 1 0
2010 Boston College 2 2
2009 Boston University 2 0
2008 Boston College Yes Yes 3 2
2007 Michigan State Yes 2 0
2006 Wisconsin Yes 2 0
2005 Denver Yes Yes 2 1
2004 Denver 1 0
2003 Minnesota Yes Yes 2 1

And for comparison’s sake, here are the four teams playing in Boston on Thursday in the 2015 NCAA Frozen Four:

Year Team NCAAs Previous Year Frozen Four Previous Year NCAAs Previous Three Years Frozen Fours Previous Three Years
2015 Boston University 1 0
2015 North Dakota Yes Yes 3 1
2015 Omaha 0 0
2015 Providence Yes 1 0

What stands out to you? Does North Dakota’s Frozen Four experience give Dave Hakstol’s team an edge this weekend? Or does recent history tell us that each season stands alone?

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