Hockey Nerd

What is AAA Hockey?
Posted: 2008-08-29 13:14:55 ET

AAA hockey is a passionate topic. In general, AAA hockey can be described as the most competitive hockey played in North America. Not all areas of NA have AAA at all age levels, but generally, it is well understood what AAA is and what it represents. Ontario, with a slight exception in the Ottawa area, clearly differentiates between AAA programs/teams and those playing at less competitive levels. USA Hockey enables Peewee, Bantam and Midget teams to register as Tier 1, but the standards, rules and norms vary greatly from district to district and state to state.

AAA hockey is elite, high level hockey. Most accept the notion that AAA programs either have no geographic boundaries or have geographic boundaries that enable them to recruit or attract the best players from a large pool of players and a large number of less competitive (Tier 2 or AA) organizations. Coaching staffs tend to be paid, or paid more. The commitment level of players, parents and coaches is elevated. Still, what is AAA hockey? A quick sampling of the three Ms (Massachusetts, Michigan & Minnesota) pretty much gives you the entire spectrum of ideas around AAA hockey. The three Ms are all large enough to be classified as USA Hockey Districts and have relatively similar hockey player populations. MYHockey currently lists 35 Massachusetts Tier 1 or AAA programs. Just this past off-season a new AAA league and a number of new AAA clubs were born. In Michigan, there are five main AAA clubs and a few others fielding less than a full slate of teams. Minnesota has no official fall/winter AAA. Yes, Shattuck-St Marys (Faribault, MN) is rated the best Prep Development program in the country and often wins Tier 1 Nationals. Yes, Minnesota has about 30 summer programs that label themselves as AAA. And yes, the Fire Hockey Club teams of western Wisconsin have 60-90% Minnesota kids and often practice at places like the University of Minnesota. Still, it is generally accurate to say Minnesota requires that kids to play within what is essentially school district boundaries and that no AAA hockey exists. Clearly, different states and regions have different ideas on how to organize the most competitive teams in their area. Ironically, statistics show that the fewer AAA teams an area has, the higher the number of NHL draft picks and players an area produces.

Each season I get numerous emails regarding the topic of AAA hockey. This summer the interest seems yet higher than average. Higher, to the point, that the topic requires MYHockey to address the topic regarding what is or is not AAA hockey with some sort of position. I am not averse to siding with popular opinion, but opinion seems split down the middle on this one. In light of that, I will still go with popular opinion and split it down the middle. At Peewee and above for USA teams, MYHockey will only allow teams that register as Tier 1 with USA Hockey to be called AAA. If you do not register as Tier 1 you will not be labeled with three As. However, teams with less than 3 As can be included in the AAA rankings if they play more than 25% of their games competitively against AAA competition and request to be ranked. In these cases I will list the team in both the appropriate Tier 1 and the Tier 2 rankings. There will be exceptions. Tier 2 teams that play 25% of their games against AAA competition, but are regularly beat by more than 5 goals will likely be denied ranking. In other words, just because you played the games, does not mean you could compete. Rankings are skewed by teams that play too many lopsided games and they will not be rewarded on MYHockey. On the other end of the spectrum, teams that are part of an Tier 1 association and Tier 1 league who for some reason do not register as Tier 1 during their minor birth year will still likely be labeled as Tier 1. There are almost as many what ifs as there are teams, so MYHockey does reserve the right to amend or make exceptions to these guidelines.

As always, MYHockey encourages you to provide feedback if something written strikes a nerve. Decisions like this are only possible when dozens of you write in educating MYHockey on the specifics of your team or the generally accepted guidelines of your association, state or district. Whether it is the issue of AAA or other hockey hot topics, feedback is genuinely appreciated.

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