The Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) was born as the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League (MCHL) in 1951 by Colorado College, Denver, Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota and North Dakota. After two seasons, the league changed its name to the Western Intercollegiate Hockey League (WIHL), which more aptly described its geographical location.
The league was the dominant force in college hockey throughout the 1950s, winning all but the 1954 NCAA Championship. Michigan won six titles in that decade alone. But in 1958 the conference broke up, due to a disagreement over recruiting practices. Minnesota and all three Michigan schools accused Denver, North Dakota and Colorado College of recruiting overage Canadians. This practice did not violate the league's (or the NCAA's) rules but was not in the spirit of the league. In the end, the four 'M' schools withdrew from the league. Consequently, there was no league play during the 1958-59 season.
The WCHA was officially founded in 1959. All the schools agreed that the lack of a league hurt western college hockey. This time, though, it was a more informal association, allowing schools to schedule whichever opponents they wanted. Denver and Minnesota, still bitter over the previous year's feud, did not schedule each other and did not meet on the ice for over a decade.
Michigan Tech and Denver, who won four and three league titles respectively, dominated the next seven seasons. The conference expanded adding Minnesota-Duluth in 1966, Wisconsin in 1969 and Notre Dame in 1971. The 1960s and 1970s saw overwhelming WCHA superiority in NCAA play, with the conference winning all the NCAA titles except for 1967, 1970-72 and 1978.
The WCHA became more formal in 1973, when the league office assumed all conference scheduling. A plan was passed in 1979 to split the conference into two divisions as a cost-cutting move but was rescinded three months later. Then, in 1981, Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Notre Dame all defected to the CCHA. The loss of Michigan Tech was a double blow, as they took the MacNaughton Cup, presented to the WCHA Champion every year, along with them.
The WCHA survived as a six-team league, then expanded again in 1984 when Michigan Tech returned (with the MacNaughton Cup) and brought Northern Michigan with them. The same year saw the start of an interlocking schedule with Hockey East, which lasted for five seasons. All inter-conference games counted in each conference's standings.
St. Cloud State joined as the conference's ninth member in 1990. Northern Michigan won the 1991 NCAA Tournament and North Dakota won the 1997 tournament, making the WCHA the first conference to win 30 national titles. Alaska-Anchorage became the tenth conference member in 1993-94, the same season that Colorado College won the first of three consecutive league titles, the first team to do so and their first titles since the 1956-57 season.
Following the end of the 1996-97 season Northern Michigan departed the WCHA, rejoining the CCHA, and Mankato State participated in the WCHA tournament for the first time the following season. In 1998 Mankato State (now Minnesota State) was voted in as the league's newest member and began play in the fall of 1999. The dissolution of College Hockey America saw more membership changes, as Bemidji State joined from the defunct conference and Nebraska-Omaha jumped ship from the CCHA to give the WCHA an even twelve teams in 2010.
The twelve team conference did not last exceptionally long. The announcement that Penn State was starting a Division 1 hockey program led to the long-rumored creation of a Big Ten hockey conference. That league siphoned Minnesota and Wisconsin from the WCHA, which lost its two biggest draws and the linchpin of its tournament attendance in St. Paul. It also took the glue holding the WCHA together, as the departure of those two schools revealed philosophical differences between the remaining members. The more five more prominent schools (Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota) acted very quickly, joining with Miami from the CCHA to form the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). Before the dust settled, St. Cloud State would join the NCHC as well, leaving the WCHA with only four schools committed to the conference. These four schools invited what remained of the CCHA (Alaska, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior and Northern Michigan) and later independent Alabama-Huntsville to form a new-look ten team WCHA for the 2013-14 season.
That new look WCHA ended up being more a marriage of convenience for the leftover schools. More disagreements emerged, as the costs and logistics of travelling to Alaska and Huntsville proved to be too much for most schools. In 2019 the other seven schools declared their intention to leave the WCHA following the 2020-21 season. They later announced the recreation of the CCHA along with St. Thomas joining them in the resurrected conference. The end of the WCHA coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 tournament (along with all other hockey tournaments) was canceled after the quarterfinals, and the following season was truncated. The two Alaska schools did not play the final season. After the conference dissolved, Alaska-Anchorage and Alabama-Huntsville halted their hockey programs while Alaska continued as an independent. After seventy years the WCHA died, though the name continued as the women’s league played on.
|1951-52||Midwest Collegiate Hockey League (MCHL) formed by Colorado College, Denver, Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota & North Dakota, all previously independent.|
|1953-54||Name changed to Western Intercollegiate Hockey League (WIHL).|
|1957-58||League dissolved following the season due to recruiting disagreements between the schools.|
|1959-60||Conference reformed as the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), this time with a post-season tournament.|
|1965-66||Minnesota-Duluth joined, previously an independent.|
|1969-70||Wisconsin added to the conference, previously an independent.|
|1971-72||Notre Dame joined, previously an independent.|
|1980-81||Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech & Notre Dame all departed after the season for the CCHA.|
|1984-85||Michigan Tech returned from the CCHA and Northern Michigan moved over from the CCHA.|
|1990-91||St. Cloud State joined, previously an independent.|
|1993-94||Alaska-Anchorage joined, previously an independent.|
|1996-97||After the season Northern Michigan returned to the CCHA.|
|1999-00||Minnesota State became a full member (previously an independent) having participated in the WCHA tournament the previous two seasons.|
|2010-11||Nebraska-Omaha moved over from the CCHA and Bemidji State joined following the dissolution College Hockey America.|
|2013-14||Major realignment in college hockey saw the following changes:
|2019-20||WCHA Tournament canceled after the quarterfinals due to the COVID-19 pandemic.|
|2020-21||Final WCHA season, Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage did not play because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The disposition of member schools: