The national hockey championship for Division 1 hockey began in 1948, when Division 1 was known as the University division. With the smaller number of schools playing hockey compared to football or basketball, there was no effective distinction between teams, any varsity program could appear in the tournament. None of the "lower" classification schools managed to make an appearance, it was the same suspects then as now.
The tournament consisted of four teams, two from both the east and west, until 1977, long past the point it should have expanded, as quality teams were left out most every year. After four years of allowing one additional team per region, 1981 saw an expansion to eight teams and the introduction of on-campus series. Another expansion in 1988 put the tournament at twelve teams.
1992 brought a major change, as hockey switched to the regional format that the basketball tournament had been using for decades. This eliminated on-campus games but also brought controversy, as the regionals proved to be less popular in hockey than in basketball. The tournament expanded 2003, going from two six-team regionals to four four-team regionals, a total of sixteen teams and that is the current format. The 2020 tournament was canceled because of COVID-19 and the 2021 tournament only had fourteen teams participating for the same reason.
|1948||Tournament began with four teams, two from both the east and west regions, and held in Colorado Springs, Colorado.|
|1949||Third place game introduced.|
|1958||After ten years in Colorado Springs, tournament played in Minneapolis, Minnesota.|
|1959||First tournament held in the east, in Troy, New York.|
|1977||Tournament expanded due to the rise of the CCHA. Additional teams could be added (one for each region), with a play-in game on-campus to advance to the semifinals. This season was the first five-team tournament.|
|1978||The only tournament with six teams, as an additional team was selected for each region. The following two seasons would only see an additional western team.|
|1981||Tournament expanded to eight teams. The first round is played as a two-game total-goals series on-campus.|
|1988||Tournament expanded to twelve teams. The top four teams receive byes into the quarterfinals. First round and quarterfinals are played as two-games total-goals.|
|1989||First round and quarterfinals changed to best-of-three series.
Final tournament with a third place game.
|1992||Introduction of the current tournament format, with pre-determined regional sites (two with six teams each) instead of on-campus series. All rounds became single elimination.|
|2003||Tournament expanded to sixteen teams, now with four regionals of four teams each.|
|2020||Tournament canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.|
|2021||Only fourteen teams participate in the tournament, as Michigan and Notre Dame both withdrew after selection due to positive COVID-19 tests.|