Northeastern once again failed to bring home their first title, either for themselves or for Hockey East, ending a bizarre run for this year’s seniors and grad students.

The Northeastern dominance began in the 2019-2020 season with a 32-4-2 record, the best in the NCAA and the only team to win 30 games. The NCAA tournament was wiped out by the Covid 19 pandemic after most of the conference tournament games were played before a limited, or no crowd.

The truncated 2020-2021 season, where many teams didn’t even play, was the closest they’ve come to hoisting the final trophy, surrendering a goofy overtime goal from behind the net in the title game against Wisconsin.

In 2022 they would lose in double overtime in the Frozen Four to Minnesota Duluth, and this season, perhaps due to the mounting pressure to finally get it done, they played the worst NCAA tournament game I’ve ever seen a team play in a 3-0 loss to Ohio State.

Alina Mueller, Chloe Aurard, Mia Brown, Maureen Murphy, and Maude Poulin-Labelle are all grad students. Alexa Matses, Katy Knoll, Peyton Cullaton, Kate Holmes, Megan Carter, Gwyneth Philips, and Peyton Anderson are all seniors, though I don’t know if any of them still have eligibility. That’s their top seven scorers, yep, all of ’em, and both goaltenders that logged minutes this season.

Northeastern has plenty of talent remaining, and may continue to add key players through the transfer portal, but that’s probably too much to lose and still hope to contend for a national title.

On the outside, no one else in Hockey East was on the cusp of taking their place. Vermont, Providence, and Boston College were 12th, 14th, and 16th in PairWise respectively, not that far off the NCAA tournament but miles from a national title. Prior to Wisconsin’s victory this season, the lowest seed to win a title was #3, and that had only happened twice. (Clarkson, 2014, Minnesota, 2016)

It’s not hard to imagine another team wresting Hockey East from Northeastern, but that team will probably enter the NCAA tournament as the 9th, 10th, or 11th seed who have yet to win a game in their two years of existence and lost by an average margin of 3.5 goals.

There’s no uniform time period on building a champion, but the Clarkson Golden Knights, the only non-WCHA team to win a national title, had one and done tournament appearances in 2010 and 2013 before winning their first in 2014. It, at least, doesn’t happen overnight and we may be entering a period where the WCHA and ECAC both put 4 teams in the tournament, and put forth the only viable contenders.

On the other side, perhaps it opens the door for Providence and New Hampshire, who won the first 8 Hockey East regular season titles but haven’t been on top since 2010.

Or is Hockey East fundamentally incapable of winning a title because of the sheer number of schools within a limited recruiting pool? Clarkson didn’t get theirs by winning over New York recruits, or drawing players from nearby New England, they did it by going into Canada – just a quarter of the rosters from Clarkson’s three title-winning teams are from the United States and many of them are goaltenders who didn’t start and only appeared in a handful of games. Just 6 of Wisconsin’s 23 listed players on this year’s championship team are Canadian, for comparison. Ohio State had 8 of 26 from Canada, UMD had 4 of 23, and Minnesota didn’t have any Canadians on the roster.

Being nearer to the population centers of Canada is the one small advantage Northeastern (the region) teams have over their WCHA counterparts, although Clarkson has recruited across Canada, not just from Ontario and Quebec.

Plus, winning titles and gaining top-tier recruits because of it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. The more you win, the more players are going to want to play for you for the prestige of adding to that legacy.

So what is left in terms of options for competing with WCHA teams?

  1. Setting up camp in the WCHA’s back yard. This is kind of a fun one because it’s so antagonistic – purposely advertising and going into Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin to recruit and pull top players east. It’s also probably the least likely, at least beyond the degree that teams are already trying to recruit as widely as possible.
  2. One of the bottom-four WCHA teams puts serious money into breaking up the top four. If, say, St. Cloud State decides they are hell bent on breaking up the UW – UM – OSU – UMD monopoly and spreads the talent pool over five teams instead of four, that could do it. Although, I think it’s more likely that they pull primarily from the least prestigious of the three, UMD, and the others remain largely unscathed.
  3. The talent continues to grow to where more teams are capable of icing deep, elite squads. This one is the most likely, especially since it’s already happening. The parity is greater than ever now, and even the worst teams are starting to lose games to the top teams 4-1 instead of 9-0.

I think there will likely be a turning point somewhere in the future where it grows such that some of the west-coast colleges begin forming teams, giving the WCHA its first real competition in that part of the country.

We can only hope that moment comes sooner rather than later.