ECAC Hockey, as it is known today, evolved slowly, starting from a dispute between the New England and New York schools. For the 1961 NCAA Tournament, the selection committee chose St. Lawrence and RPI to represent the East, bypassing the Boston area schools. In the disputes that followed, it was decided to hold an eastern tournament the following season, with the tournament champion given an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The initial season saw 28 teams competing in what can be best described as an "informal" conference. No scheduling criteria existed; schools played whomever they wished. The standings were irrelevant, since a selection committee decided the eight participants in the tournament. The varying schedule strengths, resulting in a de facto division of the conference, meant the selection of only the "stronger" teams to the tournament, regardless of record.
After three seasons of 20 plus teams, the ECAC took the logical step and formally split the conference in two, with the strong teams and all the Ivy League schools forming a smaller Division 1 conference. However, the tournament field continued to be selected by a committee and scheduling was still haphazard. The tournament selections were abolished starting with the 1971 tournament. The scheduling situation was not resolved until 1982.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were perhaps the golden age of ECAC Hockey. Cornell, under Ned Harkness, became a powerhouse in the late '60s, winning the NCAA Championship twice (1967 and 1970). Boston University followed with consecutive wins in 1971 and 1972 (and a later win in 1978). For five consecutive seasons (1970-74), the NCAA Tournament was held in the east, at Lake Placid, Syracuse and Boston (three times), a situation never seen again.
The membership did not remain constant over this period. New Hampshire jumped up to Division 1 in 1966, Pennsylvania did the same in 1967. Army left for Division 2 in 1973 and Vermont came up to Division 1 in 1974. Pennsylvania dropped their program in 1978 and Maine joined Division 1 in 1979.
ECAC Division 1 split into three divisions in 1979. The Ivies were one division, Boston University, Boston College, Maine, Providence, Northeastern and New Hampshire formed the East division, and Colgate, Clarkson, Vermont, St. Lawrence and RPI formed the West division. Starting in 1982, every school played each member of its region twice, all others once, resulting in an uneven number of games played. The Ivy and East regions played 21 games, the West region 20. Each division winner was given a home berth in the tournament, with the best second place team being the fourth home seed.
1983 saw a major change in the ECAC and Eastern hockey. The entire East division decided to break away and form a new conference, in response to a potential Ivy breakaway. After the teams formally left in 1984, Army rejoined the conference as the twelfth member, playing a half-schedule, and the divisions were abolished. RPI gained the ECAC a measure of revenge in defeating Providence in the 1985 NCAA Championship game. Army began playing a full schedule starting with the 1986-87 season, the first time in history the ECAC played a balanced schedule.
The ECAC has been the most stable conference in college hockey since 1984, with only two changes. Union replaced Army as a member in 1991 and Quinnipiac came in after Vermont left in 2005. The ECAC Championships were moved to Lake Placid in 1993, after 31 years in Boston. It remained there until 2003, when Albany became the new host and the headquarters for the conference in 2004, when the hockey administration broke away from the main ECAC structure. The tournament remained there through 2010, then in a shock, Atlantic City won the bid to host and did for three years. Following the conclusion of that contract, the ECAC returned to Lake Placid for 2014. Beyond all that, the biggest recent highlight for the conference was in 2013, when not only did the conference get its first national championship in 24 years, as Yale took the trophy, but also an all-ECAC championship game, as the Bulldogs defeated Quinnipiac to win the honor. Union followed with a national title in 2014.
|1961-62||First season of play.
Conference formed by 28 teams:
|1963-64||Vermont joined, its first season of varsity hockey.|
|1964-65||Conference renamed as ECAC Division 1 with fifteen teams, as the following teams moved to the newly-created ECAC Division 2: American International, Amherst, Bowdoin, Colby, Connecticut, Hamilton, Massachusetts, Merrimack, Middlebury, MIT, New Hampshire, Norwich, Vermont & Williams.|
|1966-67||New Hampshire rejoined from ECAC Division 2.|
|1967-68||Pennsylvania joined in its first season of varsity hockey.|
|1972-73||Army departed after the season for ECAC Division 2.|
|1974-75||Vermont rejoined from ECAC Division 2.|
|1977-78||Final season for Pennsylvania, which stopped sponsoring varsity hockey.|
Maine joined from ECAC Division 2.
Conference divided into three divisions: East, West & Ivy
|1983-84||Final season for Boston University, Boston College, Providence, New Hampshire, Maine and Northeastern, as all departed for Hockey East.|
Army rejoined after having been an independent, but only played a half-schedule for two seasons.
Conference, now with twelve teams, abandoned the division structure.
|1986-87||First season all teams played the same number of games.|
|1990-91||Final season for Army, which departed to be an independent again.|
|1991-92||Union joined, previously a member of ECAC West.|
|2004-05||Final season for Vermont, which departed for Hockey East after season.
Conference changed name to the ECAC Hockey League (ECACHL).
|2005-06||Quinnipiac joined, previously a member of Atlantic Hockey.|
|2007-08||Name changed once more to ECAC Hockey.|
|2019-20||The COVID-19 pandemic forced the ECAC Hockey tournament to be canceled after the first round.|
|2020-21||Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, RPI, Union and Yale opted not to play the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.|