Tanner Wilson: An introduction to Junior Hockey
March 6, 2013VYPE MAGAZINE - DFW
By Tanner Wilson
Here’s a look at some important facts and the importance Junior Hockey plays in helping players move on to the NCAA and Professional Ranks.
What is Junior Hockey:
A Level of Hockey for players aged 16-20 which is designed to help players reach the NCAA & Professional Ranks.
Junior Hockey Eligibity:
Many Junior Leagues have a minimum age of 16 (Especially for the Higher Level Junior Players). However, they are some expectations’ (Especially in the Ontario Hockey League) where they have a rule for exceptional player status for really talented 15 year old players. This year a player named Conner McDavid for the Erie Otters who was just 15 when he started the year and was granted exemplary status for this season which allows him to play in the OHL full time. These are only the players that they think they could have the chance to go at the very top of the NHL Draft when they their draft eligible.
The WHL & QMJHL have rules where 15 year olds can play in a limited role during the season and usually play right after their Amateur Season’s have ended.
Many players through usually get their first big chance to make an impression at the Junior Levels usually at 16 or even 17 years old after they have had some experience with their Midget AAA, or even High School or Prep School Teams where the talent is strong enough. Teams can gain interest for players in several different ways just like the NCAA.
An example in the NAHL is the Tender Agreement, think of this as a similar commitment to the NCAA. Once a player signs a NAHL Tender Agreement, no one else in the league can go after them. However, a big difference is that teams from higher level leagues like the USHL can still go after them if the player feels that they could be talented enough to play for them. This allows the player to have some options on which team they feel they could work with the best and to help their odds of gaining a NCAA Scholarship and/or Professional Contract during their Junior Career.
Many Leagues have a draft where just like the National Hockey League, teams’ select young players to fill up their prospect pool and keep them in their system that they can help track their process throughout their careers as they look to fight for a roster spot. Teams can also trade their picks to either move up or down in the draft. However, unlike the NHL, teams can’t trade current players on draft days. However, they can trade for other current players to help boaster their roster or fill in important needs during the off season or to bolster their roster during the off-season. However, they can’t trade players to different leagues (even in the Same Ability Levels), so for example a player can’t be traded from the Western Hockey League to the Ontario Hockey League or the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Limits to the 20 year old players are also in place for some leagues (Especially the High Level Leagues). The 3 CHL Leagues limit your roster to have just 3 20 year old players.
Once a player is done with their 20 year old season (this year being the 1992 Birth years), they are done with their Junior Careers regardless’ if they have a NCAA Commitment/Pro Contract ready to go or not. They are also no red-shirting allowed for any reason. Even for something like a major injury that forces them to sit out for all or a majority of the season.
Many leagues also have limits on foreign import players that can bring in from other parts of the world. A big example of the growing talent pool world wide is that the North American Hockey League recently announced that starting next year teams can carry up to 4 Import Players on their team which will double the limit from 2 that the league has had for most of its history.
Length of the Season:
It’s a much longer season then the NCAA. Most NCAA Teams typically plays around 35-to-40 games over the course of the season (Frozen Four Teams pushing 45). Many Leagues that are eligible for the NCAA typically play around 55-to-60 games during the regular season; while the Canadian Hockey League (Comprised of the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League & Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) play typically around 70 games prior to the playoffs.
While others like the North American Hockey League (NAHL) & the United States Hockey League (USHL) usually wrap up the regular season in Late March/ Early April. A majority of the games are on weekends to prevent the players to miss as little school as possible. They are also a number of Tier 3 Junior Leagues that are used to help players to move up to the higher level Junior Leagues to get them opportunities. A good example was former Dallas Ice Jets forward Austin Azurdia who after playing with the Ice Jets last year, he is now with the Langley River men (BCHL) and has a NCAA Commitment to UCONN earlier this season.
These leagues usually play a 45-to-50 game regular season and have more off weeks then the Tier 1 & Tier 2 Junior Leagues and many of these leagues go from Late September through Mid March with the playoffs taking place throughout Mid March usually through Early April. That is short compared to many leagues where the Canadian Jr. A National Championship & NAHL Robertson Cup Tournaments take place in Mid-May; with the USHL & Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Memorial Cup Championships take place in Late May. They is also a number of Tier 3 Junior Leagues in the USA to help them move up to higher level leagues.
USA Junior Leagues
United States Hockey League: 64
North American Hockey League: 60
Eastern Junior Hockey League: 45
Western States Hockey League: 46
North American 3rd Tier Hockey League: 48
Canadian Hockey Leagues
Western Hockey League: 72
Ontario Hockey League: 68
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League: 68
Canadian Junior A Hockey Leagues
British Columbia Hockey League: 60
Alberta Junior Hockey League: 60
Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League: 54
Manitoba Junior Hockey League: 60
Superior International Junior Hockey League:
Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League: 48
Ontario Junior Hockey League: 55
Central Canadian Hockey League: 62
Quebec Junior A Hockey League:
Maritime Hockey League: 52
The Academic Requirements mostly come down to the individual team. All teams have academic advisors to help keep track of their players how their doing in school and to help them guide through the NCAA Recruiting Process. The High School Aged Players typically take their full course load; while the College Aged Players will usually go to a community college or take online courses on a part time basis (Depending on the Courses). Many players usually take in between 1-3 courses per semester to balance the work load and being able to attend practices without classroom disruptions’. If a player is suspended due to poor grades, it’s usually not more for a game or two for the most part. Players aren't allowed to take a full course load while playing Junior's because it would affect their NCAA Eligibity.
Where do players live?
All players live with Host Families that families apply to the teams. Each team has a housing advisor where people can sign up to house a player over the course of the regular season. After it’s determined which families will be the billets for the upcoming season? They is usually a process to determine which player/family combo will work the best at the start of the season. This even goes for players that are playing for hometown teams (Justin Greenberg with the Texas Tornado as an example).
Comparisons’ to the AT&T HS Hockey League:
Leagues like the AT&T HS Hockey League compared to most Junior Hockey Leagues (Even leagues like the North American Hockey League) is night and day. Very few players in the AT&T HS Hockey League get the opportunity to move on to higher level Leagues & Teams. One of the few exceptions’ is programs where they play College Club Hockey where it’s mostly a Club and not sponsored by the School and NCAA; maybe even some Tier 3 Junior Leagues but would have a hard time getting noticed beyond that.
Many players with the opportunity to move past the AT&T Metroplex HS Hockey League once they are done with High School simply because the talent level is lacking on many teams. Not just here in Texas but in many High School Leagues like it across the country where many leagues are club teams. For many, it’s a league that is for players who are looking to extend the amount of playing time in addition to their Midget AA & A Levels since the AT&T Metroplex HS Hockey League doesn’t allow AAA Players because of the amount of playing time and travel involved.
Here’s the number of players and from different leagues where they played prior to their NCAA Career. Some players might have switched leagues at some point in their Junior Career as they got a chance to improve prior to their NCAA Career. The numbers mentioned are the last teams/leagues they played for before the made the jump to the NCAA.
Univ. of Alaska: USHL 6 NAHL 2 BCHL 7 AJHL 9 SJHL 1 CCHL 1
Bowling Green: USHL 13 NAHL 4 BCHL 3 AJHL 1 OJHL 3 CCHL 4
Ferris State: USHL 11 NAHL 8 BCHL 2 SJHL 2 CCHL 2 NPJHL 1
Lake Superior: USHL 2 NAHL 7 AJHL 1 SJHL 3 OJHL 7 CCHL 5
Miami (OH) Univ. USHL 21 NAHL 2 BCHL 2 OJHL 1
Univ. of Michigan: USHL 16 NAHL 1 EJHL 1 OJHL 6 HS/Prep School 2
Michigan State: USHL 14 NAHL 2 BCHL 2 AJHL 2 MJHL 1 HS/Prep School 2 U18AAA 2
Northern Michigan: USHL 11 NAHL 3 BCHL 9 AJHL 1 NOJHL 2 KIJHL 1
Norte Dame: USHL 22 NAHL 1 BCHL 2
Ohio State: USHL 12 NAHL 3 BCHL 6 AJHL 3 NOJHL 1
Western Michigan: USHL 18 NAHL 2 BCHL 2 AJHL 1 CCHL 2 HS/Prep School 1
Number of Players by League in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association
United States Hockey League (USHL)= 146
North American Hockey League (NAHL)=35
Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL)=1
British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL)=33
Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL)=18
Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL)=6
Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL)=1
Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL)=3
Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL)=17
Central Canadian Hockey League (CCHL)=12
Northern Pacific Junior Hockey League (NPJHL)=1
Kootenay Junior International Hockey League (KIJHL)=1