What exactly is Junior Hockey? Look at it as the bridge between Youth/High School hockey and College hockey. In today’s hockey environment, players rarely move straight to college hockey without spending some time in Juniors. Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III Junior Hockey clubs all strive to develop players to their fullest potential and fulfill their aspirations of playing college hockey, whether that’s for a NCAA Division I or Division III College or ACHA college club hockey team.
The USHL is the only Tier I league in the United States. Players skate for free with no billeting charge. It is the most recruited junior league in the States and they placed over 300 kids into Division 1 College Hockey last year. The NAHL is the only Tier II league in the United States. Players skate for free, but pay a monthly billeting fee. It is a highly recruited league for both Division 1 and 3 college hockey. The NAHL placed over 210 kids into NCAA schools last year. Tier III Junior hockey encompasses multiple leagues across the United States. It is a pay-to-play level of junior hockey. It is more akin to how AAA hockey works, players pay a fee to play and a monthly billet expense.
Seven Junior Clubs call Illinois home, the Tier I Chicago Steel (USHL) and Bloomington Thunder (USHL), the Tier II Springfield Junior Blues (NAHL) and the Tier III Chicago Jr. Bulldogs (NA3HL), Peoria Mustangs (NA3HL), Decatur Blaze (USPHL), and Chicago Cougars (USPHL).
Recently “Ask AHAI” was approached about whether or not a Youth Midget (or High School) player is allowed to skate with a Junior team and still retain their Youth eligibility.
QUESTION: I’m an assistant coach for a Youth 18U Tier II team in Illinois. I recently learned that a Tier III Junior team will be skating in one of our home rinks for the coming season. I am aware that a Youth Midget or High School player is allowed to skate with a Junior Team on a trial basis during a season and not lose his youth eligibility. What I do not understand is the process by which this can occur.
AHAI: The process is through a Junior “Affiliate Player Agreement”. This agreement can be found on the USA Hockey Website. While this policy specifically pertains to the Tier I and Tier II Junior programs, AHAI applies the same to the Tier III Junior Programs in Illinois.
QUESTION: What is the process? Is the player temporarily listed on two rosters?
AHAI: The Youth roster is controlled by the player/parent and the AHAI Registrar for USA Hockey. A player on a Youth roster must seek permission to leave the youth club and play Juniors (at any level) or he will be removed from the youth roster. A player cannot play both Juniors and Youth hockey. However, AHAI does allow a “grace period” for a youth player to experience Junior hockey. AHAI is not punitive, but does allow a Youth player the experience of Junior hockey on a limited basis. Junior rosters, Junior drafting and Junior player selection has nothing to do with parent or player approval. Junior teams can draft and roster any player they choose without player consent. While there is no financial obligation at that point, the Junior team “owns the rights” to that player within their Junior league. Junior rosters are not governed by the AHAI Registrar, and thus not subject to the same approvals within AHAI.
QUESTION: What paperwork must be processed and filed?
AHAI: As we mentioned earlier, an Affiliate Player Agreement must be submitted. The Junior coach, the parent of the player and the coach of the Youth team must all sign the Affiliate Player Agreement.
QUESTION: Does the Youth Club have any say in the opportunity for a player to skate with a Junior team?
AHAI: Yes, the Youth Club must sign off on the Affiliate Player Agreement.
QUESTION: What is the normal time frame for the approval process?
AHAI: As quickly as the form is signed and AHAI receives it.
QUESTION: How many games is the Youth player allowed before he loses his Youth eligibility?
AHAI: The player is then allowed to play 10 games on the Junior team up until December 31 of that playing season. After December 31, if the player participates or plays in ANY Junior games or practices, he is stricken from the Youth roster and may not come back to Youth hockey that season.
QUESTION: Is the process for joining the Junior team and reverse process for re-joining the Youth team the same?
AHAI: If a player is on a Junior roster and only playing Junior hockey, then he must get AHAI Board approval to return to his youth team prior to December 31. If a player is on a Youth roster, he can follow the Affiliate Agreement process outlined above – 10 game limit with a Junior team. BUT, under NO circumstances is the player relieved of his financial obligation to his Youth club. He still has to pay his fees. If he does not, if properly notified, the player will be refused play by ANY Youth or Junior team.
QUESTION: What happens to the player, Youth team or Junior team if the process is not followed correctly?
AHAI: The player will not be able to play for either the Youth or Junior team. He is stuck in between, stuck in limbo – most players and parents are unaware of that fact. There is a financial obligation to both entities as well, and unless the clubs relieve those obligations the player has to pay.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking the time to explain the process to me. My goal in contacting “Ask AHAI” was to become aware and competent in the process so that I may better educate our Youth Midget players and families for the upcoming season.
AHAI: You are very welcome. If you or any of our readers have any questions regarding hockey in Illinois, do not hesitate to “Ask AHAI”. For more information on Junior hockey, please check out the informative articles below on www.ahaienews.com or visit the Junior hockey page on the USA Hockey website.
- Junior Hockey: Make the Smart & Informed Decision
- Junior Hockey Thrives in Illinois: Part I – Tier I & Tier II Juniors
- Junior Hockey Thrives in Illinois: Part II – Tier III Juniors