Youth Roadmap to Higher Levels in Hockey

As players navigate through tryouts and which team to play for it seems everyone is giving a different message. Most self proclaimed high level teams at the youth level have coaches that retain their positions based on team results. There are many forces that create a top athletes and hockey players and it is often misunderstood how important each of the different forces are. We will try to explore the road map to higher levels of hockey and what are the factors that drive success for the player.

At different age groups players have different opportunities for playing hockey in United States and Canada:
U6 – Mini Mite, Termite, Initiation
U8 – Mite, Novice
U10 – Squirt, Atom (Major and Minor)
U12 – Pee Wee (Major and Minor)
U14 – Bantam (Major and Minor)
U18 – Midget (Major and Minor), High School
U20 – Junior

Within each age group there is opportunity to play at different tiers and levels. It is often confusing how programs use the word AAA or Tier 1 or Elite.

Depending on where you live in the country AAA, AA, A, B, C, House, Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, and Tier 4 all mean different things.

Tiers are designated by USA hockey and they represent levels of hockey for state, regional and national competition. Tier 1 is the highest level and USA hockey offers National Championships at U14(Bantam), U16(Midget Minor) and U18(Midget Major) levels.

Within each organization teams are separated by letters. The top teams are usually AAA, followed by AA, A, B, C, and House at each respective age group. Despite the different terms a AAA team in one organization may not be any better than a A team in another organization. Travel Hockey organizations in many part of the country are not allowed to have AAA teams at all or at different ages.

What does this mean to reaching higher levels of hockey? Playing higher levels of hockey doesn’t mean you have to play AAA or Tier 1 at younger ages, it means that you have to find the right program and coach. Development at younger ages means a lot different than older ages.

Most players are not scouted until they are Bantam Major or older. Rarely a player will be touted about when he is a Pee Wee Major.

Hockey development is unusual in that the best players in their younger days may have played A, or house instead of the highest levels in their respective organizations. It is unfortunate but the higher designation with extra A adds cost to hockey. It is often benefited with more ice time and higher level coaches but it is important to note that development is not always consistent. More puck touches on a smaller lower level team might be more beneficial than no or low puck touches on a higher level team.

Other components play factors to creating opportunities for players also:

1) Training: How good is the training. Are they working on skills or just team tactics. Are they working on becoming better athletes.

2) Support: Do players have parents or family that picks them up when they make mistakes, and signs them up for training.

3) Opportunity: Do coaches, teammates, parents, players themselves create opportunities for success.

4) Recognition and Achievement: Does performance lead to recognition and achievement.

Often players are touted for their skating skill or stick handling ability but if they are not seen or scouted they may not get the opportunities to advance.

As we discussed earlier scouts for junior and college teams come to see players that are in their Bantam and Midget years. Size, interests, skills change rapidly as player grow, puberty and external forces begin to impact hockey players. Also use injuries become more prevalent. Athleticism, conditioning, speed, talent separate players at this age. For this reason players are encouraged to be at the top of their games by bantam major. Players have the greatest development between the ages of 10 and 14. It is these years that define their future in hockey at the higher levels.

There are many paths to D1, D2 and pro hockey. There are many intermediate steps along the way. There is no right path or direct path. The best players will be found but to become the best a player will need to compete against the best and get high level coaching. A great article is

In future articles we will cover examples of hockey players and share stories of how they succeeded.

The goal of is to be a advocate for talented youth hockey players. Good luck to all that participate in elite youth hockey and best wishes to all youth hockey families. To be notified of programs we run please apply.

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