The Greatest

Greatest NCAA men’s graduating classes

10 greatest graduating classes in NCAA men’s hockey history
Brian Gionta battled his way to three All-American selections while co-piloting the Boston College Eagles to four Frozen Fours. They reached three NCAA finals during his stay, including back-to-back matchups with North Dakota when he was an upperclassman. (Photo by Winslow Townsend/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The 51st national final in NCAA men’s hockey history represented the ultimate intersection of outstanding senior classes. Except whereas one of those classes was a set of seniors at the moment, the other was setting its tone.

On one side, Michigan was capping a run of four consecutive Frozen Four appearances. On the other, Boston College was beginning to match that feat.

Experience prevailed when the Wolverines’ senior goaltender won an overtime staring contest against his Eagles freshman counterpart. But the latter party would get his own sudden-death championship triumph in his own NCAA finale.

In the two decades since that meeting, no other graduating classes have matched that consistency. Some have managed three Frozen Four berths, and others have taken part in back-to-back championship runs. Two were part of the same string of three straight trips to the national final.

But in terms of team trophies and individual output, no recruiting classes of the last 20 years have achieved a top-10 legacy. The following, along with a handful of tough omissions, each exhausted their eligibility in dominant fashion.

All 10 either won a pair of NCAA titles, went to three championship games or both. Some did so in an era when freshmen had their own development team before playing three years on the varsity. Most of these classes also produced at least one AHCA All-American.

As with last week’s women’s edition, team achievements are the most crucial criterion. Right after that, we take a given class’ collective impact on every deep run into consideration.

10. Michigan’s class of 1953
This class attained the first (and still only) three-peat for any program in NCAA men’s hockey history. Appropriately, captain John Matchefts was the first victorious skater to win a national tournament’s MOP award.

Amidst this dynasty, the six-member graduating class also produced a pair of All-Americans. Forward John McKennell made the cut as a sophomore in 1951, and defenseman Alex MacLellan as a senior.

Despite this class’ three-ring distinction, there is one kicker. In the first full calendar decade of NCAA men’s hockey, the competition pool was not as deep or intense as it would become.

9. Minnesota’s class of 1976
In his comprehensive biography of Gopher coaching legend Herb Brooks, sportswriter John Gilbert pronounced the 1976 offseason “the biggest turnover of core players in his tenure.”

That year’s senior sextet consisted of Bryan Fredrickson, Warren Miller, Tom Mohr, Brad Morrow, Pat Phippen and Tom Younghans. Together they had led Minnesota to its third straight NCAA final and second national championship in that span.

In those days, programs like Minnesota fielded a JV team to hone its underclassmen. That makes it all the more impressive that Miller, Morrow and Phippen were on board for all three rides. With their input, the Gophers alternated championship wins with Michigan Tech before reclaiming their crown in 1976.

As a senior, Miller tied junior Tom Vannelli for the team lead with 26 goals. Phippen, the team captain, placed second in playmaking with 33 assists.

8. Wisconsin’s class of 1983
With one exception, this class did not boast any decorated individuals. But there were five Badger regulars who left on the heels of a second national title and three straight final appearances.

Between forwards Tom Carroll and Todd Lecy, Lecy was more prolific with 107 career points. Among the defensemen, Pat Ethier eclipsed stay-at-home colleague Andringa with his points.

But goaltender Marc Behrend was the definition of clutch. As a sophomore, he claimed national tournament MOP accolades after the Badgers vanquished archrival Minnesota, 6-3.

Wisconsin came up short in this class’ junior year, and Bob Johnson’s last behind the bench, losing to North Dakota. But under Jeff Sauer the next season, the program reclaimed the glory with a 6-2 win over Harvard.

With his performance in net, Behrend reclaimed the MOP crown. He remains the only two-time MOP in NCAA men’s hockey history.

7. Denver’s class of 1961
Four decades after graduating, defenseman Marty Howe was inducted into Denver’s athletic hall of fame. At the time of his enshrinement, he was still the second-most prolific blueliner in program history. He had made two All-American and two NCAA all-tournament teams while helping the Pioneers to back-to-back championships.

Amidst that second run, Howe was joined by four teammates on the All-America West team. Among them were three classmates in Grant Munro, future 1999 university hall of famer Jerry Walker and exemplary captain Bill Masterton.

With those veterans leading a loaded lineup, Denver defended its title in dominant fashion. The team went 30-1-1, and won a lopsided title game over St. Lawrence, 12-2.

This class also had the distinction of winning each of the first two WCHA tournaments.

6. Minnesota’s class of 1979
What was more impressive in the Brooks era than a Gopher playing three seasons on the varsity? A Gopher playing all four years on the varsity.

That was what Bill Baker, Joe Baker, Steve Janaszak and Phil Verchota did leading up to Brooks’ depature from Minnesota. After the quartet won its second national title in four years, Brooks was tapped to coach the 1980 U.S. Olympic team. Bill, Janaszak and Verchota would make the transition with him en route to an historic victory.

But first, as freshmen, the blueliners Baker and forward Verchota saw regular action in the 1975-76 banner campaign. Bill tallied 23 points from his post that year, setting the tone for his reliability as a two-way catalyst.

By his senior year, Bill was an All-American with 54 points on the season. In front of him, Verchota was a regular contributor on a loaded strike force. And behind them, Janaszak was the No. 1 netminder for a team that went 18-3-1 at home. That slate culminated in a 6-3 NCAA first-round win over Bowling Green.

In the Final Four, Janaszak backstopped 4-3 wins over New Hampshire and UND, enough for MOP honors.

5. Boston University’s class of 1972
Nine Terriers completed three years of varsity eligibility between 1969-70 and 1971-72. Among the forwards in that group, two broke triple-digit career points in 80-plus games. Another, future longtime Massachusetts Minutemen coach Don Cahoon, contributed 96 points.

By the time they were upperclassmen, John Danby stood out the most among the skaters. He and goalie Dan Brady would make the All-American team as seniors while helping BU to its second national title.

Brady had previously claimed tournament MOP honors after clinching the 1971 championship. Yet at the end of his All-American follow-up, he gave way to a fellow senior for the 1972 final.

With Tim Regan’s 4-0 shutout of Cornell, the Terriers became the first East Coast program to win back-to-back championships. Regan, who had spent most of the winter with the U.S. Olympic team, would succeed Brady as MOP.

4. Boston College’s class of 2001
As freshmen, the first class of Eagles to touch two millennia were one goal away from a national championship. As sophomores, they fell another OT strike shy of a return trip to the title game.

After falling to UND in the 2000 final, BC’s eight-member class of 2001 got the glory in a rematch. Appropriately, the Eagles clinched the title in sudden death, 3-2.

That capped a banner year for senior defenseman Bobby Allen and forward Brian Gionta, both first-team All-Americans. It was the third such honor for Gionta, who also won Hockey East’s 2001 player-of-the-year award.

Besides reaching four Frozen Fours, BC won three Hockey East tournaments in Allen, Gionta and goalie Scott Clemmensen’s time. Clemmensen was the team’s No. 1 netminder in all four years, posting a 99-35-10 record. He, along with Allen, Gionta and defenseman Rob Scuderi, went on to a lengthy pro career.

3. Cornell’s class of 1969
Ken Dryden was a three-time All-American, Brian Cornell and Bruce Pattison two-time, Peter Tufford one-time. All four constituted half of the eight East honorees in 1969.

Behind Dryden, the Big Red lost one game per year in each of three seasons. Winning the ECAC playoff title every time, they automatically qualified for the four-team national bracket.

As it happened, the stellar class peaked as sophomores in terms of team glory. Cornell blanked UND, 1-0, and repressed BU, 4-1, to win the 1967 NCAA tournament. It would fall short in a semifinal rematch with UND, but win the 1968 third-place game over BC.

Finally a return trip to the championship game ended in a 4-3 heartbreaker against Keith Magnuson and Denver.

2. Lake Superior State’s class of 1994
The first freshman class in Jeff Jackson’s head-coaching tenure won either a conference or national tournament every year. After failing in their bid for a fourth straight CCHA playoff crown, the 1993-94 Lakers regrouped en route to the NCAA championship.

In the class’ freshman year, LSSU dropped the rubber match of a best-of-three national quarterfinal to Clarkson. Bouncing back from that 4-3 loss, the five-member class reached three Frozen Fours thereafter.

Each of those semifinals upgraded to a berth in the final, and the Lakers prevailed twice. They edged Wisconsin in 1992, fell to Maine in 1993, then sent this class out in style with a 9-1 rout of BU.

Clayton Beddoes, one of three players in his graduating class to break triple-digit career points, made the 1994 all-tournament team.

1. Michigan’s class of 1998
Marty Turco began his stay in Ann Arbor by winning the CCHA’s top-rookie prize. He then backstopped the Wolverines to triple-overtime in the 1995 national semifinal before blinking and losing to Maine, 4-3.

Outdueling classmate Gregg Malicke, who had transferred from Clarkson, to keep his starting job, Turco found swift redemption. Behind his tireless netminding, Michigan outlasted Colorado College in overtime to win the 1996 national title.

Though the Wolverines lost another Frozen Four semifinal squeaker to BU the next year, they did repeat as CCHA tournament champions. In addition, Turco made the 1997 All-American West team.

Classmate Bill Muckault earned a slot on that team as a senior. After playing a searing second fiddle to Brendan Morrison his first three years, he led the 1997-98 Wolverines with 67 points. He would cap his career with 105 goals and 121 assists.

With depth from Matt Herr (133 points in 151 career games) and blueliner Chris Fox, the Wolverines made it back to the national final. There the fourth-year foursome partook in another dramatic victory, with Turco outdueling Clemmensen for the 3-2 OT win over BC.

With that win, Turco graduated with a 137-28-7 record.

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