Tier I (Open Hockey): Designed for the top players at each age group (Second year Squirt to Midget Major 18U). The average cost to play per season ranges from $4500 – $8000 plus travel expenses. Travel is generally twice a month and anywhere in the United States. Selected in the summer, Tier I teams play in the Tier I Elite Hockey League or the High Performance Hockey League.
Tier II (Club Travel Hockey): Designed as geographically based “travel” hockey, the average cost to play ranges from $2500 to $5000 plus travel expenses. Most Tier II Travel Clubs participate in 1 or 2 out of state tournaments. AHAI divides Tier II into two levels: AA – the club’s 1st team at an age level and A – all other teams for that club at an age level.
Tier III (Recreational/House Hockey): Designed for entry level and/or learn-to-play, as well as those looking for a lower cost option with less travel. Cost ranges from $500 to $3500. There can be travel within the Northern Illinois area and teams often participate in one out of state tournament.
Leagues: Most Tier II and Tier III leagues divide the participating teams into divisions or levels of play. The decision for which level can be based on a seeding round (a limited number of games played to determine team competitiveness) or in some cases the age of the players on the team. (Major, second year of an age group and Minor, first year of an age group). The goal of this is to make the season competitive and fun for all the teams.
Girls: Although Girls Hockey is not currently classified by Tier I, II, or III; Illinois has typically treated the girls as such. For instance, our Tier I Clubs all field girls teams at various age levels. The one difference is that girls do not have an 18U category but rather a 19U top age level. Many Tier II clubs field girls’ teams that play in the youth division of NIHL (Travel) or NWHL (House), or in an all-girls division in the leagues.
So now what? The decision on what level to play depends on many variables – cost, travel, and level of commitment to name just a few. The reality is some of these levels of play overlap. For instance, some Tier III teams are equal in skill and ability to some Tier II teams. The same can be said for Tier II and Tier I, though not as often. It comes down to what works best for the player and family. At an entry level, enjoyment and development are most important. Look for programs that offer good coaching all the way through the program. Are they focused on development of your skater or just winning? Does the Hockey Director help and oversee all of the club’s teams or just the team they coach. Most often, good programs can be measured in player and family retention, not necessarily in state championships.