When my kid joined the circus that is youth hockey, I was assaulted by lingo that had mutated wildly in the thirty years since my own youth hockey “career” ended. Then as now, there were mite, squirt, peewee, bantam and midget teams. Then as now, there were AAA, AA, A and B teams. But that basic vocabulary had evolved into a snarl of Tier teams, Tier I, Tier II, rec, Double-B, birth year teams, Brick teams, tournament teams, minor teams, major teams, ADM teams, Select teams, Midget-minor teams, Midget-major teams, mini-mites, mighty-mites…
As a kid, I was dimly aware of the existence of an entity known as USA Hockey, but I don’t think I knew that it governed my local (Michigan) hockey team. I probably would have said it had something to do with the Olympics (which it does). From the USA Hockey 2012 Annual Guide:
USA Hockey’s primary emphasis is on the support and development of grassroots hockey programs. [...] While youth hockey is a main focus, USA Hockey also has vibrant junior and adult hockey programs that provide opportunities for players of all ability levels. [...] 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. [...] USA Hockey is divided into 12 geographical districts throughout the United States.
USA Hockey, Inc., is recognized as the National Governing Body for the sport of ice hockey in the United States under the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act Title 36, Chapter 17 § 391 United States Code.
The 12 Geographical Districts of USA Hockey
Listed in order of number of registered members.
- Central [Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin] (59K)
- Minnesota (55K)
- Michigan (53K)
- New York (48K)
- Massachusetts (47K)
- Southeastern [Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, District of Columbia] (47K)
- Pacific [Alaska, California, Nevada, Washington, Hawaii, Oregon](43K)
- Rocky Mountain [Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma] (39K)
- Atlantic [Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware] (36K)
- Mid-American [Ohio, West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana] (35K)
- New England [Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont] (35K)
- Northern Plains [Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming] (14K)
I’m quite sure that no-one ever asked to see my birth certificate (to prove that I wasn’t lying about my age) or required me to register with USA Hockey as a pre-requisite for joining a team. But that (birth certificate and USA Hockey registration) is what we had to do — and by we I mean the hockey parent “we” which doesn’t include me at all — even for us (him) to take a “Hockey 101″ class, or to play in a mite house-league.
We (this time I mean me, me and the other old people) also never had to sign “letters of intent,” as Quisp Jr (and his teammates and every kid playing on a travel team now) has to, binding him contractually to one club for the entirety of the season. The letter of intent is a contract of more than 10 pages in length (I’m tempted to say 20 pages), the kind which I as a grown-up generally would send off to a lawyer to draft a response. But he and we (his parents) just signed the thing. When I was a kid, I would say I “made the team.” Quisp Jr says he “signed with.”
Since he joined the circus, I have been bothering every parent who would stand next to me for thirty seconds with my incessant questions regarding the definitions of these various terms for team levels and what have you. Naturally, I also used Google, expecting to find some kind of easy-to-access resource that would boil this mess down to a chart or a simple FAQ. What I found were scattered bits and pieces, much of it contradictory or so badly-written that it begged the questions it was supposed to be answering.
What’s a Mite, Squirt, Pee-Wee, Bantam or Midget?
And why are they all words that mean “small”?
I don’t know where the names came from, so let’s just get that out of the way.
USA Hockey groups players according to birth year. Each level consists of two birth years. In order to make it as confusing as possible, the names of the levels refer to age rather than birth year. The thing you need to know is, a player is the “age” he will be on his birthday in the calendar year in which the season in question starts.
For example: the 2012-13 season has just begun (in October). My son was born in 2003. That means he turns nine in calendar year 2012. So he plays in the 10 and under group, a.k.a. 10U (a.k.a. Squirts). Also in Squirts this season are kids who turned 10 in 2012. If they were born in the first months of the year, they will turn 11 while the 2012-13 season is still going. They will be 11, playing in 10U.
A child born on 1/1/2003 and another child born on 12/31/2003 are both 2003 birth year (obviously), but are also both “9″ years old for the purpose of grouping, and so they both play (this season) in 10U (a.k.a. Squirts). If the kid born on 12/31/2003 had been born the next day, he would be an ’04, would be “8″ this entire season, and would be playing in 8U (a.k.a. Mites).
The levels are:
- 8U (Mite)
- 10U (Squirt)
- 12U (Pee-Wee)
- 14U (Bantam)
- 16U (16U Midget, sometimes called “Midget-minor”)
- 18U (18U Midget, sometimes called “Midget-major”)
What is a Tier team?
A Tier team is the highest level of what we used to (and still do) call “travel teams.” According to USA Hockey, tier teams exist only at the Bantam level and above. (Before this year, there were Peewee tier teams, but not anymore, according to the USA Hockey 2012 Annual Guide.)
However, some states (California, for example), recognize “tier” teams for pee-wee and above. Since USA Hockey does not sponsor nationals for pee-wees (according to the 2012 guide), I’m not sure what the “tier” designation can possibly mean for a pee-wee team at the state level.
Tier I is the highest level. Tier II is below Tier I. USA Hockey recognizes both Tier I and Tier II as official designations. Tier I is supposed to be for the highest skilled players and allows billeting of players from other geographical regions. Tier II is supposed to be geographically-limited to to the location of the team. The definitions, per USA Hockey:
TIER I – Any youth or girls’ team that is properly registered with USA Hockey as a Tier I national championship-bound team.
TIER II – Any youth or girls’ team that is certified Tier II by an affiliate organization which has jurisdiction over the team. Tier II certification will be based on criteria set up by the affiliate [...].
In other words, USA Hockey leaves it to the state programs (CAHA in California) to sort out the tiers.
Are Tier I and AAA the same?
Almost everyone I asked said that Tier I means triple-A. Nationally, it doesn’t. In fact, USA Hockey does not recognize AAA at all. USA Hockey doesn’t recognize ANY letter designations. They don’t recognize AAA, AA, A, BB, B.
USA Hockey ONLY recognizes Tier I, Tier II, rec/house, and adult.
However, states sometimes define their Tier I teams as AAA. Sometimes. But not always.
Are Tier II and AA the same?
No. Just as with Tier I and AAA, there is also no official correlation between Tier II and AA. USA Hockey does not recognize AA at all.
Again, USA Hockey only recognizes Tier I, Tier II, rec/house, and adult.
However, states sometimes define their Tier II teams as AA. Sometimes. But not always.
What is a “rec” team?
USA Hockey designates all youth teams, including travel teams, that are not Tier teams as “rec” teams. That means all pee-wee teams and below, whether they call themselves AA, A, BB, B, or in-house, are “rec teams.”
Does “travel team” have any official meaning?
When I was a kid, a travel team was a team of the best kids of your particular age group. It cost the same or maybe fractionally more than lowly “house league,” and you had nicer jerseys and you played teams from other towns.
It’s not an official designation, though.
Are there Mite or Squirt (or Peewee) Tier teams?
No. USA Hockey does NOT recognize Tier teams for levels below Bantam. You will hear people talk about Squirt Tier teams. There are message boards devoted to discussing them. The designation doesn’t exist.
(Prior to 2012-13, USA Hockey recognized Tier teams at the Peewee level, but this year’s USA Hockey guide recognizes only Bantam and above. Sorry, Peewees.)
And, again, USA Hockey does not recognize letter designations for any level of play.
If someone tells you their kid plays for the So-and-So Tier I Squirt AAA team, what they’re telling you is that their kid plays for a squirt rec team that travels and may carry a state (but not USA Hockey) recognized letter designation, which they (the parents and/or the local hockey league) has decided to call “Tier” in order to suggest its greatness by association with the official USA Hockey designation to which it has no connection whatsoever.
Are there National Championships for Mites, Squirts or Peewees?
No. USA Hockey does not recognize (much less organize or sponsor) National Championships for levels below Bantam (Peewees had nationals before this year, now not).
Does USA Hockey recognize State Championships for Mites, Squirts or Peewees?
No. The individual state organizations do, however (e.g., CAHA, in California). I am pretty sure we had state finals for squirt “A” when I was a kid in Michigan. Sponsored by whom, I have no idea. But it wasn’t USA Hockey.
How does USA Hockey define AAA, AA, A and B?
They don’t. You will find no reference to any of those terms in USA Hockey.
What are the rules related to birth year (major/minor) teams?
USA Hockey does not recognize “birth year” teams. As far as I can tell, CAHA or SCAHA (the state and local organizations for Southern California) don’t either.
You will see teams such as (for example) the Jr. Kings ’03 Squirt A team. They have chosen to have only “03″ birth-year players. Sometimes people refer to teams whose players are all in their first year of a level “minor” teams and teams whose players are all in their second year of a level “major” teams. USA Hockey does not recognize “major”or “minor” teams.
In the case of the aforementioned Jr. Kings ’03 Squirt A team, they are referred to by SCAHA as “Jr. Kings (2)” Squirt A. “Jr. Kings (1)” Squirt A is their birth-year 2002 team.
But please note this confusing detail: USA Hockey has two levels (age groups) that are sometimes referred to as “major” or “minor”. They are “midget major” (18 and under) and “midget minor” (16 and under). When I was a kid, there was only “midget,” which was 16 and under. After that, you could move on to juniors (16-20). Now you have the option of “midget major.”
However, USA Hockey calls these groups 18U Midget and 16U Midget.
What the hell is BB?
I had never in my life heard of a double-B team until this past spring. It appears to have been made-up to allow better grouping of B level teams. BB and B, just like A, are all, officially, according to the mothership, designated “rec/house.”
USA Hockey doesn’t recognize BB. CAHA, in California, doesn’t recognize BB.
SCAHA, So-Cal’s local league, does acknowledge the BB/B distinction. Nevertheless, state-wide, the BB and B teams must compete under the same “B” umbrella for a single “B” state championship.
Who decides whether a team is AAA, AA, A, BB or B?
The team. That is, the organizing body of parents and whoever else who runs whichever team your kid plays for.