Top 5 NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship Games

Throughout the 71-year history of the NCAA Men’s DI Ice Hockey Championship, there have been countless classic battles. Teams have come out of nowhere to be crowned champions. Games with so many momentum swings, fans didn’t know whether to cheer or cry. There have been games that have gone deep into the night, with fans praying on every shot.

These are the greatest NCAA Hockey National Championship Games of all-time.

Honourable Mention

1949: Boston College def. Dartmouth (4-3)

Only the second national championship ever, the Eagles won their first of five championships by outlasting a Big Green club that upset the defending champion Michigan Wolverines in the semifinals.

1989: Harvard def. Minnesota (4-3, OT)

The Crimson’s lone championship came in dramatic fashion. In front of a partisan crowd at the old St. Paul Civic Center, Ed Krayer’s goal minutes into overtime sent Gopher fans home disappointed. They became only the third Ivy League school to win a national championship.

1998: Michigan def. Boston College (3-2, OT)

This is a personal favorite, as a fan of the Maize and Blue. I was far too young to remember the Wolverines’ win in 1996, but this one was just as sweet. The TD Garden (then known as the Fleet Center) was packed with Eagles’ fans, but Josh Langfeld’s shot in overtime slipped by Scott Clemmensen, silenced the crowd, and gave Michigan their record ninth championship.

2015: Providence def. Boston University (4-3)

The Friars miraculously got to the championship game after stunning the NCHC Champions, Miami University, in the opening round of the tournament. They went up against a Terrier team that was no. 2 in the country, and were trailing in the third period.

Then, Boston goaltender Matt O’Connor did this:

Eat your heart out Vesa Toskala.

Brandon Tanev scored a couple of minutes later to send the Friars to their first national title.

5. 1954: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute def. Minnesota (5-4, OT)

On paper, this was an odd matchup. RPI, had won their conference championship for the second year in a row and were up against the Michigan Wolverines, the three-time defending national champs.

Related: How to Talk Like a Hockey Player

After pulling off the semifinal upset, the Engineers were tasked with taking on Minnesota, an offensive juggernaut that punched their ticket to their second final in a row with a 14-1 win over Boston College.

How it Played Out

Though Minnesota was a heavy favourite, the Engineers jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks to goals from their three leading scorers, Abbie Moore, Frank Chiarelli and Ambrose Mosco. However, the Gophers’ daunting offence came alive, outshooting the Engineers by a 3:1 margin in the final 40 minutes. Minnesota reeled off four unanswered goals, taking the lead with just over 10 minutes to play.

Hope seemed all but lost for RPI. Yet, in the dying minutes, Moore tied the game at four, and for the first time in tournament history, the championship game was decided in overtime. The Engineers wasted little time in the extra frame, as Gordie Peterkin scored less than two minutes in, giving RPI their first national championship.

4. 1977: Wisconsin def. Michigan (6-5, OT)

It was the seventh meeting of the 1976-77 season between the two now-Big Ten rivals. The Badgers won three of the four regular-season meetings, before sweeping the Wolverines in the best-of-three WCHA Final.

Despite dominating the early years of the tournament, this was Michigan’s first championship game appearance since 1964, while Wisconsin was looking to win their second title of the decade.

How it Played Out

Despite a Michigan-filled crowd at the old Olympia in Detroit, Wisconsin came out flying out of gate, scoring three in the first period, including two power-play goals. The Wolverines bounced back with a pair of goals of their own, and only trailed by one early in the second stanza.

The game was not close for long, as the Badgers answered back with back-to-back goals, including Mark Johnson’s second goal of the game early in period three.

Mark Johnson University of Wisconsin
Mark Johnson burst on to the scene as a freshman, leading the Badgers with 36 goals in 1976-77 (UW Athletics)

Down three with less than a period to play in regulation, with the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Julian Baretta in net for Wisconsin, there was no way Michigan was coming back.

Or could they?

Only 26 seconds after Johnson’s goal, Mark Miller scored to bring the game to 5-3. Thirty-eight seconds later, Dave Debol potted his second of the game to make it a one-goal game. The clock was ticking away on the Wolverines, but they continued to press. With a little over five minutes remaining, John Wayman scored to bring the game even at five.

Steve Alley 1977 Overtime Goal
Alley’s game-winning goal in the 1977 final is the fastest overtime goal in championship game history (UW Athletics)

Michigan had all the momentum heading into overtime. However, 23 seconds into the extra frame, Steve Alley scored to give the Badgers their second national title.

3. 2009: Boston University def. Miami (OH) University (4-3, OT)

Of every national championship game I’ve watched, this one is the craziest I remember.

In one corner, you had the heavily-favored Boston Terriers. The Terriers had not made it to the Frozen Four, let alone the championship game, since losing to North Dakota in the 1997 Final. In 2008-09, they were the best team in college hockey, ranked no. 1 for most of the season. On the other side, you had the Miami RedHawks, a competitive team from the CCHA making their first Frozen Four appearance.

How it Played Out

Even though both teams had chances in the first period, only Chris Connolly was able to breakthrough for the Terriers. The score was evened in the second period with a goal from the RedHawks’ Gary Steffes.

The score remained 1-1 until a couple of minutes passed the halfway mark of the third period. Tommy Wingels and Trent Vogelhuber’s each scored to give the RedHawks a two-goal lead with a few minutes left in the contest.

Related: Do You Know Your NHL Goalie Trivia?

At this point, I changed the channel. With the CCHA Player of the Year, Cody Reichard, in goal for Miami, there was no way Boston was scoring twice before the final buzzer. Apparently, during that time, Terriers coach David Quinn pulled goaltender Kieran Millian, hoping for a miracle.

Wish granted.

With exactly one minute left, Zach Cohen scored to bring Boston within one. I had changed it back to the game, expecting to watch a Miami celebration. Instead, I was shocked to see the score was 3-2. Still, I doubted that Boston could pull off the comeba…

Nick Bonino’s goal with 17.4 seconds left sent BU fans in attendance at the Verizon Center (Now Capital One Arena) into a frenzy. Heading into overtime, Boston had all the momentum. Then, the flukiest goal in Frozen Four history occurred.

Mr. Gary Thorne, if you please…

Colby Cohen’s shot deflected off Miami captain Kevin Roeder, and floated by the traffic in front over the shoulder of an unsuspecting Reichard to win the game, and give the Terriers their fifth championship.

2. 1984: Bowling Green def. Minnesota-Duluth (5-4, 4OT)

This is the longest national championship game ever. Just four years removed from the Miracle on Ice, Bowling Green and Minnesota-Duluth met on the ice in Lake Placid, NY.

1984 Bowling Green Falcons
Since their win in 1984, the Falcons have not made it back to the Frozen Four (Bowling Green Athletics)

It was both the Falcons and Bulldogs’ first national championship game. Bowling Green had been to the Frozen Four in 1978, but fell to a third-place finish. The Bulldogs had confidence heading into the game, as they had Hobey Baker Award Winner Tom Kurvers manning their blue line.

How it Played Out

The teams traded a goal in the first period, with Bowling Green’s Gary Galley and Minnesota-Duluth’s Mark Baron scoring 20 seconds apart. The Bulldogs took the lead in period two with a goal from Bill Watson, and added another in the opening minute of the third. Bowling Green would pull back within one before the Bulldogs answered back with a goal from Tom Herzig. The Falcons wasted little time shrinking the margin again as Peter Wilson scored 51 seconds later.

With just over 90 seconds to play, John Samanski, who scored the Falcons’ game-winning goal in their semifinal win against Michigan State, scored to tie the game at four.

Before the mid-90s, overtime in college hockey were 10-minute periods. Regardless, fatigue was setting in for both teams, especially Minnesota-Duluth, who had needed overtime to beat North Dakota the night before. One overtime solved nothing, neither did the second, or the third. Finally, in the fourth overtime, the Falcons caught a break.

Gino Cavallini scored with 49 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime, or the 97:11 mark. It was Bowling Green’s first, and so far only, championship. It was also notable as the first championship awarded to a team from the CCHA, as well as the first won by coach Jerry York, who has since coached Boston College to four national championships.

1. 1991: Northern Michigan def. Boston University (8-7, 3OT)

If you look up the word ‘bonkers’ in the dictionary, there is a good chance you’ll find this game.

The matchup consisted of two teams that had not been to the championship game in over a decade. The Wildcats lost in their first attempt in 1980, while the Terriers had not been to the final since winning in 1978. Everyone knew it was going to be a high-scoring affair, with Northern Michigan scoring 18 goals in their first three games of the tournament, while Boston scored 19.

How it Played Out

The Terriers came ready to play, and it showed on the scoreboard after three pucks went passed the Wildcats’ Bill Pye in the first period.

Then, Northern Michigan took over. The Wildcats dominated the second period, scoring five times, chasing Boston starter John Bradley. They added another goal, this time against Scott Cashman, as the country’s leading scorer, Scott Beattie, completed his hat trick just a few minutes into the period, making the score 6-3 Wildcats.

This is when fundamentals and strategy fell by the wayside. First, Dave Tomlinson scored for the Terriers to bring Boston back within two. Then, a little over two minutes later, Daryl Plandowski scored his second of the game to give Northern Michigan their second three-goal lead of the game.

Northern Michigan Wildcats 1991 National Championship
Northern Michigan became the third team from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to win the national championship (Northern Michigan Athletics)

Then with less than eight minutes remaining in the game, Boston put the pedal to the medal. Tony Amonte scored to make it a 7-5 game before Shawn McEachern scored just a couple minutes later to make it a one-goal game. In the final minute, David Sacco found the back of the net for the second time of the night to tie the game at seven, and to overtime they went.

As the first overtime passed, then the second, the play turned sloppy. The players were getting tired, the ice at the St. Paul Civic Center was getting choppy, and both Cashman and Pye were standing tall in goal.

Finally, in the third overtime, the Wildcats got a rush, led by Plandowski.

A picture-perfect, give-and-go between Plandowksi and Mark Beaufait, that not even Northern Michigan coach Rick Comley could have drawn up, led to the game-winning goal.

It is the only other championship game, including Bowling Green’s 1984 win, that has needed multiple overtimes.