The Dirty Little Secrets about Mite Hockey

By John Dunne, AHAI President

Since USA Hockey introduced the American Development Model (ADM) five years ago, Illinois hockey has been a hot bed of discussion. The main topic of discussion is about full-ice hockey for mites. Should there be or not be full-ice hockey for the 8U level? The discussion has usually been at the administrative level between Clubs, Hockey Directors, USA Hockey and AHAI. While AHAI and USA Hockey have tried to educate the clubs, along with its membership, on the benefits of the ADM and small-area training, Illinois has held fast to allowing full-ice games for older 7U and 8U mite players. I think it’s time the members, or the parents of the players, at this level understand the real background of the mite discussion over the last few seasons. The goal of this letter is for you the member to be able to make your own decisions on what is the best development for your players. As expressed later in this letter, the clubs, along with USA Hockey and AHAI, want to provide the best possible product and support the members’ wishes.

Facts and information about the current mite landscape:

FACT: The American Development Model (ADM) is the most effective way to develop the long term athlete, specifically hockey players. Please do the research. The ADM is not just about 8U hockey; it is about developing the skills of players at each level to help them prepare for the next levels.

INFORMATION: There is very little disagreement on the ADM as a learning tool at any administrative level. The roadblock for some is the mandated size of the 8U playing surface. While there is much evidence supporting small area competition, we have not been presented with any evidence on how full-ice games benefit 8U player development. The reality is that since there has been so much time and focus on one level, 8U, that Illinois is neglecting how important the proper training model is at the next levels.

FACT: USA Hockey rules state the size of the ice surface that 8U mites must play on. USA Hockey also allows for states to request exceptions to this rule; see below.

A. Definition of a Game: An ice hockey game is a contest played against another team which is registered with USA Hockey or a member organization of the IIHF. USA Hockey playing rules or approved modification thereof shall apply.

(1) The age appropriate standard playing surface at 8 & Under is cross-ice or half-ice.

(2) Effective for the 2013-14 playing season, but subject to limited exceptions as are approved by the USA Hockey Player Development Committee, all games and scrimmages at the 8U age level shall be played either cross-ice or half-ice, or on a surface that is equal to or less than the dimensions of cross-ice or half-ice. Each Affiliate shall enact applicable rules and regulations to address the governance, implementation and transition for this rule to become effective within the Affiliate on or before September 1, 2013. To the extent an Affiliate desires to seek exceptions for a limited number of full ice games or scrimmages for its teams at the 8U level, the Affiliate shall submit a plan by January 31 each year detailing such request to the USA Hockey Player Development Committee. The Affiliate’s plan is subject to the annual approval of the Player Development Committee which will give final determination by March 31 of the same year.

INFORMATION:  AHAI has requested an exception each year and it has always been granted. This is where we get to the crux of the matter. How many full-ice games, who gets to play them, freedom of choice and “don’t tell me what to do”. This mandate of the playing surface size has created competition from other programs outside of USA Hockey offering what USA Hockey and AHAI does not; full season, full-ice mite hockey with no restrictions.

USA Hockey and AHAI are charged with providing the best programs possible and serving our members, that includes the ADM.  Within that, AHAI and USA Hockey did not do a very good job of introducing the ADM and it caused major confrontations between AHAI and certain clubs along with NIHL (Northern Illinois Hockey league). NIHL runs a very successful, quality league and states that it tries to represent its members’ (clubs) needs. On the Mite issue, NIHL, along with the Northwest Hockey League (NWHL) are in a tough spot, stuck between what they are being told by some of their members and the USA Hockey/AHAI rules that the league must follow. Originally, there was also a lack of structure from AHAI for implementing a standard of how to organize and run cross-ice events. NWHL, NIHL and some of the clubs stepped up and did a very successful job implementing the events.

Over the years of administrative discussion, it was quite evident that there was a desire from the clubs for AHAI to pursue the exception to play a number of full-ice games. This information came mostly from meetings with club Presidents and experienced Hockey Directors. These requests from the clubs were the basis for the exception requests approved by USA Hockey.  While the discussion always included the support of the ADM model from the clubs and coaches, what was often heard was: The ADM is great, but… “It’s what our membership wants” (full-ice mite games) or “Nobody wants to play cross-ice”. The question should be asked at the club level, who is leading who? Who is charged with developing the players and guiding the developmental direction of a club? While there are some clubs who are very opposed to any limitations to 8U full-ice play, there are many clubs who are forced to play outside of USA Hockey due to geographical location or perceived pressure of membership loss that forms their decision of what program to place your players. Be educated and help your program make their decision.

The first AHAI exception request 5 years ago was for 25 games after November 20th with the latest and current exception being 15 full-ice games after December 1st. The current exception has already been granted for next season (2015/16). There isn’t and never was any restriction in cross-ice ice games at any level. Would USA Hockey like to see AHAI move to no full-ice games? Yes. USA Hockey strongly believes that is the best development for the players. Period.  But, USA Hockey will still allow and review States’ exception requests in the future.  Of all the states and districts across the U.S. affiliated with USA Hockey, including Illinois, there are only 9 states or areas that request exceptions. Illinois is the only state that has requested more than 10 full-ice 8U games. States such as Minnesota and North Dakota (10 full-ice games after January 1st), New York (no exception request), Michigan (no exception request), Wisconsin (3 games after March 1st) and Massachusetts (8 games after January 1st) have either no exception requests or less than 10 full-ice games starting in January or later. The Chicago metro area, along with parts of Michigan, are the only real areas that have clubs or programs that choose not follow the ADM model with regard to full-ice games. AHAI has had one exception request denied (2013/14), and that was requesting 25-30 full-ice games during the season. The request was resubmitted by AHAI and approved for 18 full-ice games starting mid-November for that playing season.

So who is right? It doesn’t really matter. It is an individual decision based on what is best for your players. USA Hockey and AHAI strongly believe that ADM training is the best development tool for players. For more proof watch the NHL Analytics Tracking of 8U Hockey Players video. AHAI also believes we offer additional opportunity for older Mites, 7/8 year olds, to participate in full-ice games for more than half a playing season.


  • NIHL and NWHL provide great structure at the 8U level for both cross-ice and full-ice games, scheduling and standings at all levels of play.
  • USA Hockey programs in Illinois can play unlimited cross-ice ice games and tournaments plus 15 full-ice games and tournaments after December 1st.
  • Players are not restricted from playing outside of USA Hockey with non-affiliated programs, but are encouraged to understand what that means as far as governance and rules.
  • Players can absolutely play both affiliated and non-affiliated programs at the same time while maintaining their USA Hockey status. There are many programs that do this at mite level.
  • There are no proposed changes at the Squirt level for USA Hockey or AHAI.
  • Tier II Two-Choice rules for 8U players are being reviewed to assist programs that participate with USA Hockey and AHAI at the 8U level.
  • Over 90% of the country is very successfully retaining and developing their players at the mite level in accordance with the ADM model.

What is AHAI asking? We ask that parents ask their clubs for their developmental plan, not just for mites, but for all playing levels. Parents should educate themselves on all the programs in their areas, then find the program that best fits the players and family’s needs. The following are a few things for parents to think about. Do you see youth baseball having their 7/8 year olds playing on baseball fields with 90 foot base lines and 400 feet to center field . . . do you see youth basketball having their 7/8 year olds shooting at 10’ high baskets with NBA size basketballs…do you see youth soccer having their 7/8 year olds play on the same size soccer field and same size nets as the Chicago Fire. . . .do you see youth football programs having their 7/8 year old play on football fields that are 100 yards in length . . obviously the answer to all of these questions is no – each sport has designed their athletic fields to the size of the young participant for obvious reasons . . .better skill development for our youngsters and as a result…a better and longer lasting love for the game.

There are pure ADM programs such as the Admirals and the AHAI Tier I Mission ADM Mite program. There are programs that participate in NWHL’s and NIHL’s structured mite divisions. There are programs that only play in leagues outside of USA Hockey that have a different structure from the ADM model.  Some programs have players that play both on USA Hockey teams and on non-affiliated teams outside of USA Hockey. There are different options in every geographical area.

The information and education is available. Most of the clubs are very open to answering any questions or concerns parents might have. If a club doesn’t have an answer, then maybe it’s a sign to look to play elsewhere. If you have questions for AHAI, you can click here to send them to Ask AHAI.

I know that we are talking about very young players and all this controversy seems ridiculous, but…it is a very important, once in a lifetime opportunity to develop these players’ age-appropriate skills and love of the game.  Good luck and ask questions.

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