Junior Hockey FAQs


Does AHAI really hate Junior Hockey? – submitted by a player who is a midget major


Wow, there is a real misperception here; we better fix that.  No, AHAI does not “hate Junior Hockey”.  On the contrary we hope the youth hockey players in Illinois ALL ascend to the Junior Hockey level of play. AHAI’s position is to protect youth hockey players from unscrupulous Junior Tier III owners. The operative word here is “ascend”.  To that end we have some simple protections in place for our players.

1. If you are a player with enough skill to play Tier I or Tier II Junior hockey (non-pay to play) and you can make one of those teams – you should go to play there immediately – at any age. God bless you if you are that skilled – go find your dream. No one should hold you back.

2. If you are not skilled enough to make a Tier I or Tier II team today, then you should not go to Junior Hockey (Tier III, pay to play) until you are out of high school. If you are only good enough for Tier III, then by all means stay with your midget or high school hockey program.

It is just that simple. In some Tier III leagues and Tier III clubs there are operators just out to fill rosters with 25 players at full paying fees. Whether or not you are a good enough player they may take you just to fill a roster spot, or complete their financial picture. There have been instances of players (parents) paying fees only to play mostly on the bench – thus not improving their skill levels. AHAI does not want to see anyone taken advantage of in this way.

It is AHAI’s wish to support quality Junior Hockey programs in Illinois in order that our Illinois players do not have to leave the state to play Junior Hockey. Next year, AHAI will have 6 Junior Hockey teams in Illinois.

 Tier I USHL – Chicago Steel

Tier I USHL – Bloomington Thunder

Tier II NAHL – Springfield Junior Blues

Tier III NA3HL – Chicago Junior Bulldogs

Tier III NA3HL – Peoria Mustangs

Tier III – (yet unnamed, playing in Crystal Lake)

As always, when it comes to Junior Hockey programs, tryouts camps and decisions, do not hesitate to give AHAI a call (Mike at 224-636-3217) to get all the latest information and an unbiased opinion on your Junior prospects. Best of luck!


My son was contacted to play for a junior team, at least occasionally. He is still a midget aged High School player. Can he play both for his high school and for the Junior team?


The fact is he can be rostered on both Junior and youth teams. But he cannot play both. In youth hockey AHAI controls all the rosters. Junior teams do not need your permission to place a player on a roster. So a midget can be double rostered to a Junior team. Those are the facts. But AHAI wants it’s players to be afforded every opportunity possible to advance. So AHAI allows a youth (high school or Midget rostered) player to “experience” Junior hockey. A youth player can play on a given weekend with the Junior team without sacrificing his youth team. But after that “experience” the player has to decide what he wants to do…

1. If a player has a second Junior “experience” he is removed from the youth roster and can no longer play with the midget or High school team.

2. If the player then wants to quit the Junior team, or he is cut from the Junior team, he needs to appeal to the AHAI Board to be reinstated as a youth player.

3. A player can only be reinstated before December 31.

If a Junior team cuts the player after December 31, the player cannot get on a youth roster. He ends up being done for the year. So be sure your son will stay with the Junior team after December 31!   Or he will not have any place to play the rest of the season.

Best of luck to your son in his hockey endeavors this season. Take care in those decisions…email AHAI if you have any questions.


A couple of weeks ago AHAI had its “College night”. Our son has expressed an interest in playing Junior Hockey. My husband and I are not quite ready for our son to move away to play hockey. What Junior programs are available in the Chicago area?


The simple answer is that there are 2 teams in the Chicago area – the Tier I Chicago Steel in Bensenville, the Tier III Chicago Junior Bulldogs in Romeoville, and a little further away, the Wisconsin Rampage in Pleasant Prairie, WI. There is a also a Tier III team in Peoria and a Tier II team in Springfield as well. We currently do not have a Tier II level team in the Chicago area.  It is important for you to know more about the levels in Juniors so you and your son can make an informed decision.

There are really 3 reasons to play Junior Hockey – to extend playing in your youth hockey “career”, to prepare for playing in college, or to find an avenue to the professional ranks. Keeping with the theme of “threes”, there are also 3 Junior levels in the U.S, USA Hockey’s Tier I, Tier II and Tier III.

Junior Tiers I and II are not pay to play – basically they are “free” for your son to play – provided he makes the team, of course! The air can get pretty thin when you get to the Junior Tier I and II levels as there are only 700 players among those ranks. All Tier III Junior teams are “pay to play” just like your youth hockey in Illinois. You foot the bill entirely.

The Tier I Juniors are comprised within a single league, theUnited States Hockey League (USHL). It is the premier Junior league in the entire country, an element of USA Hockey, and is 100% NCAA and ACHA (American College Hockey Association) compliant. There are 16 teams in this league, and doing the math would give you about 320 player spots. As to local programs, The Chicago Steel, playing out of The Edge in Bensenville are in the USHL. Others stretch across the Midwest from Ohio to Nebraska.

The Tier II Juniors are likewise entirely comprised within a single league, the North American Hockey League (NAHL). It is made up of 24 teams, with a little larger geographical footprint than the USHL, providing about 480 player spots. Tier I and II are extremely competitive.

Out east is another story, another structure with Junior teams supplanting midget hockey and Prep schools playing a dominating role. Juniors out east is also very competitive and high quality, but always a “pay to play” Tier III structure….and far away from the Chicago area.

AHAI would advocate for Tier I, Tier II and Tier III opportunities in the Chicago area. The non “pay to play” is a very difficult philosophy to support in this area because there are so many other things to do, rather than watch Junior hockey; therefore, Tier I and II in our area need other supplemental funding. But in towns like those in Northern Iowa, the Junior teams’ game attendance flourishes. It is tough to field Junior teams in Chicago, but there are those that are benevolent to the sport (Chicago Steel and Chicago Junior Bulldogs (www.NA3HL.com) and provide the Junior venue for those that can make it.

If your son is thinking of playing Juniors, do not go forward without contacting AHAI. They will be glad to be of assistance.