The numbers don’t lie… there are a lot of junior hockey options in the United States. Deciding on the right team and place to play is a tough and sometimes life-changing decision in regards to what path, level and league may be best for the aspiring hockey player.
The last thing a player or parent wants to do is run the risk of making the wrong decision, often costing them their one and only opportunity to put themselves in a position to advance to the next level. You may be asked to commit to a team or sign a contract that would lead you down the wrong path, limiting your ability to advance and costing you precious time and money.
There are many facts and also many myths when it comes to junior hockey, so hopefully this will shed some light on helping you make the right and informed decision.
USA Hockey, the OFFICIAL Governing Body
First, there is ONLY ONE official governing body of hockey in the United States, which is USA Hockey. USA Hockey provides the foundation for the sport of ice hockey in America; helps young people become leaders, even Olympic heroes; and connects the game at every level, including juniors, while promoting a lifelong love of the sport.
FACT: USA Hockey are the caretakers of the game in the United States. This leadership role carries great responsibility of creating the best and safest place for players to play. They have invested countless time and money to insure that the game is protected along with staying ahead of the game with the safety of the players, adaption of the rules and the advancement in technology in mind.
As the National Governing Body for the sport of ice hockey in the United States, USA Hockey is the official representative to the United States Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), which include the Olympics and World Championships at all levels. USA Hockey also works closely with the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) on matters of mutual interest.
USA Hockey and its’ junior hockey leagues are seeking solutions to ensure that the game of hockey is played at a high level of competition and serves as a development path to future opportunities in the game at both the collegiate and professional levels. To that end, USA Hockey has joined forces with junior hockey leagues like the NAHL, NA3HL and NA3EHL, who are all members of USA Hockey, to establish guidelines for player safety, with an emphasis on the development phase which junior hockey represents.
The levels of Junior Hockey
USA Hockey supports and promotes the Ladder of Development in junior hockey, providing for developmental advancement opportunities based upon skill level. All leagues and teams are certified, annually, by the USA Hockey Junior Council in three (3) classifications: Tier I; Tier II; Tier III; and provisional for any of the foregoing classifications.
FACT: There are only two leagues in the United States that are Tier I and Tier II, which are free of tuition, and have more NCAA and NHL placements than all the other leagues combined, the USHL and NAHL.
USA Hockey-approved Junior Hockey Leagues:
Tier I: USHL
Tier II: NAHL
Tier III: NA3HL, NA3EHL, EHL, MJHL, NPHL, RMHL and the USPHL
There is only ONE Tier l league in the United States and that is the United States Hockey League (USHL). The Tier I program is a player development concept designed to become the best amateur hockey league in the world which will attract the top 16-20 year-old players and further develop its players, coaches, and officials through the highest level of competition.
Tier I Benefits
• Free Tuition. All training, coaching, and developmental services are covered by the team and the league.
• Free Equipment. Equipment costs covered by team through a partnership with an equipment manufacturer. Each player has access to skates, sticks, protective equipment, and training apparel at no cost.
• Free Housing. Housing costs covered by team through a network of billet homes in the local community. Each player is afforded their own private sleeping area, meals, laundry, and other family services.
• Free Travel. All Tier 1 teams are required to provide motorcoach ground transportation, hotel rooms, and meals for away games when applicable (some away games are local).
There is only ONE Tier II league in the United States and that is the North American Hockey League (NAHL). Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2015-16, the NAHL features 22 teams in 10 states from across North America and prides itself on the social maturity and skill development of student-athletes ages 16-20 with aspirations of advancing to collegiate and/or professional hockey.
FACT: Over the course of the last two years, over 400 NAHL players have made NCAA commitments. The only other league in the United States and Canada with that many commitments in that time frame is the USHL.
Tier II Benefits
• Free Tuition. All training, coaching, and developmental services are covered by the team and the league. FACT: Any league or team that charges tuition to play is not Tier II.
• Free Travel. All teams are required to provide motorcoach ground transportation and hotel rooms for away games when applicable.
• Housing Stipend. Housing costs are supplemented through team relationships with a network of billet homes in the local community.
• Advancement. 200+ players per season make NCAA commitments.
• Scouting. 200-350 NCAA and NHL scouts at each NAHL event.
• Equipment. All players are provided with sticks, pants, gloves, helmets, jerseys, and socks at no cost.
• Education. With the primary goal being advancement of players to the NCAA, the NAHL has gone above and beyond to educate their players and ensure they are informed about the educational process when it comes to advancement, which includes every player attending a mandatory NCAA Compliance and Education seminars.
• Player Safety. The NAHL has developed an exclusive Department of Player Safety and Code of Conduct, which was developed to create a safer environment for players.
The Tier III leagues and teams provide a competitive opportunity for the elite player on a regional and localized geographic basis. There are currently eight leagues certified by USA Hockey for competition at the Tier III level, which includes the NA3HL and NA3EHL.
FACT: The NA3HL and NA3EHL serve as two of the top training grounds in the country by providing the best coaching, exposure and developmental vehicles available for student-athletes in Tier III junior hockey. Both leagues are organizationally managed by the NAHL, which includes the same benefits that those in the NAHL enjoy, including partnership with equipment partners, unmatched daily news and player recognition, live online broadcasts and league-wide events.
The NA3HL and NA3EHL provide a structured developmental environment for student-athletes whose youth options are limited but are still reaching their potential and have aspirations of playing in the NAHL or United States Hockey League (USHL) and eventually the NCAA or American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA).
• Exposure. In addition to a 40+ game regular season schedule, both leagues feature three, high-profile and quality exposure events with a PROVEN scouting presence, which includes the NAHL’s exclusive Event Scouting System.
• Advancement. During the 2014-15 season, the over 40 NA3HL players were called up to the NAHL to play during the season and an additional 23 players were either tendered or drafted by NAHL teams.
• On-Ice Success. The NA3HL’s North Iowa Bulls won both the 2015 and 2013 USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championship and finished as National Runner-Up at the 2014 USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championship.
• Equipment. NA3HL and NA3EHL teams and players have the exclusive benefit of the equipment partnership relationships that the NAHL enjoys like Easton, Vaughn and OT Sports.
• Education. With the primary goal being advancement of players to college hockey, the NA3HL and NA3EHL have gone above and beyond to educate their players and ensure they are informed about the educational process when it comes to advancement, which includes every player attending a mandatory NCAA Compliance and Education seminars.
• Player Safety. Both the NA3HL and NA3EHL developed and share an exclusive Department of Player Safety, which was developed to create a safer environment for players, while also educating all team personnel about a safer on-ice environment and the implementation of greater respect for the well being of all players.
Let’s face it, you many only get one chance to make the right decision in regards to junior hockey. When all is said and done the last thing you want is to be a victim and end up blaming someone of not living up to their promises. We encourage you to do your homework and ask questions.
At the end of the day, there is no other governing body that invests in their player’s safety, technology and development like USA Hockey does. If considering a non-USA Hockey certified entity, make sure you are asking the following questions and know the facts before making a smart and informed decision.
• Is the junior league you are considering CERTIFIED by the official governing body of hockey in the United States, USA Hockey?
• Is the junior league you are considering have a department dedicated exclusively to PLAYER SAFETY and CODE OF CONDUCT?
• Is the junior league you are considering have a PROVEN and DOCUMENTED track record of player advancement and development, along with a listing of alumni?
• When you go to games and league events, is there a GUARANTEED scouting presence, which includes an EXCLUSIVE event scouting system along with hundreds scouts at the event from junior, NCAA and NHL programs? Are there just a couple of scouts in the building or are there HUNDREDS?
• Does the league you play in place a priority and focus on EDUCATION, which includes exclusive and mandatory seminars for players?
• How does your league compare ON THE ICE and COMPETITIVELY with others in its category?
• Is the league you are considering TRANSPARENT with its rules, policies and procedures?
• Does the league you are considering have options to play NATIONWIDE?
The NAHL family of leagues feels like our players are the greatest asset and we remain committed in continuing our mission of providing more places for players to play, coaches to teach and officials to officiate as we continue our mission as the League of Opportunity.