Minor hockey is an umbrella term for amateur ice hockey which is played below the junior age level. Players are classified by age, with each age group playing in its own league. The rules, especially as it relates to body contact, vary from class to class. In North America, the rules are governed by the national bodies, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, while local hockey associations administer players and leagues for their region. Many provinces and states organize regional and provincial championship tournaments, and the highest age groups in Canada and USA also participate in national championships.
In November 2019, Hockey Canada announced that beginning in 2020 (officially taking effect in the 2020-21 season), it would refer to its age categories by their age limits (with "midget" being renamed "U18", for example) rather than by names. It stated that the new names would be more concise, while there had also been concerns over use of the term "midget" in this context--as the word is now considered a pejorative towards dwarfism.
To qualify in a category, the player must be under the age limit as of December 31 of the current season.
There are two broad grouping of skill levels: competitive and non-competitive. From house league/recreation hockey, progression is made to competitive travel hockey. A competitive team will hold tryouts and players will be selected for the roster depending upon skill level and fit. At this level, players chosen to compete experience a higher level of on-ice competition and coaching. Players learn systems; coaches maximize his/her potential and train them to work together as a unit.
Higher-skilled players will typically play on "representative" or "travel" teams that will travel to play representative (rep) teams from other areas. These teams are classified by skill. Not all cities will have teams at all skill levels, depending on size and the popularity of hockey, however even small communities may field teams at multiple levels. (For example: Orillia, Ontario, with a population of 30,000, has four distinct skill divisions for 7-year-olds.) The classifications are typically not certified by any external organization, so there is speculation about what levels are truly better or stronger than others. AAA, AA, and A hockey are nationally recognized as competitive levels of organized hockey, with AAA being elite competition.
In British Columbia, BC Hockey has a different system as the province has no "B" level hockey (Rosterd select / League select). All teams are either non-competitive "C" house or competitive Rep teams "A" (Pee Wee to Juvenile). Rep teams "A' compete exclusively association vs. association under the guidance of PCAHA (Pacific Coast), OMAHA (Okanagan), VIAHA (Island), and are labeled as A1, A2, A3, and A4. No Atom level Provincial championship exists as Atom is considered developmental. The OMAHA and VIAHA have "Atom Development" rep teams, while the PCAHA follows "A1,A2,A3, etc" similar to older ages. Midget Rep has a BC run Midget AAA league which is the highest level of midget rep, in addition to association run rep teams (A1,A2,A3,etc.)
"A" level teams are designated by the following tiers: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and Tier 4. For the purposes of affiliation regulations, each Tier designation will be considered a category.
BC Hockey Registrations of male Midget, Bantam and Pee Wee players from the previous three (3) years with the Associations tiers are determined the according to the following schedule:
|Average Registration of Male Midget, Bantam & Peewee Players||Designation|
|300 and greater||Tier 1|
|Less than 300, greater than or equal to 175||Tier 2|
|Less than 175, greater than or equal to 80||Tier 3|
|Less than 80||Tier 4|
The above chart shall be utilized to determine the tier of the "initial entry" team at each division (i.e. the association's top Midget, Bantam and Peewee team). 1.03 a) Associations may register additional teams in any Division in accordance with the following chart:
|Association Designation||Second Entry Team||Third Entry Team||Fourth Entry Team|
|Tier 1||Tier 2||Tier 3||Tier 4|
|Tier 2||Tier 3||Tier 4||Tier 4|
|Tier 3||Tier 4||Tier 4||Tier 4|
|Tier 4||Tier 4||Tier 4||Tier 4|
b) Any association registering more than two hundred and fifty (250) players in any Age division of Peewee, Bantam, Midget and Juvenile shall be required to register teams in that division in accordance with the following chart:
First Entry, Second Entry Team Must register two Tier 1 teams Third Entry Team Tier 2 Fourth Entry Team Tier 3 Fifth Entry Team Tier 4
1.04 All Winter Clubs are designated Tier 1. This designation is to be reviewed annually by the BC Hockey Executive Committee following consultation with the District Association.
Quebec house leagues are labeled C, B, A. Competitive teams are urbanly known as the "double letters" and are labeled as BB, AA (Atom through Midget Levels), and AAA (urbanly considered as triple-A and higher than the double letters). AAA teams in Quebec only occur from categories Pee-Wee through Junior. The Midget category offers the 'Espoir' Level (primarily 15-year-olds) and falls between AA and AAA distinction. The following are the Levels currently played in the Province of Quebec, as sanctioned by Hockey Quebec:
In a 2001 study published by the University of Toronto Press, the effects of minor hockey players who are born in the first half of the year (January-June) were directly compared to those who are born in the second half of the calendar year (July-December). The study aimed to determine how age affects a young player's probability of playing at a higher level in the future. Given the relatively short age brackets in Canadian minor hockey (players move up one league every two years before the age of 15), it was hypothesized that players who are born in the latter part of a calendar year are at a disadvantage (theoretically, a child could be playing with peers who are 2.5 years older than themselves under the current Canadian Minor Hockey system). The findings in this research were consistent with the hypothesis; upon extensive testing throughout several leagues and age divisions in Canada, Hurley, Lior and Tracze concluded that age plays a significant factor in a players ability to excel in hockey beyond the house league level.
The findings of this study resulted in the proposal for redistribution of player slotting in minor hockey under a new "quarter" system. The system proposed would split a year into four-quarters, consisting of three months each, for example,1992(3) for players born in 1992 sometime in the third quarter (i.e., sometime in the months July, August or September). Under this proposed system players would play against players of a similar age, never playing opponents who are over 24 months older than them as the current system allows. The proposed system would operate under an 8-year basis, moving players from division to division each year.
In Finland, the Finnish Ice Hockey Association roughly categorizes minor hockey players to under school-ages and school-ages. Children over 16 are considered as juniors, although the youngest juniors are still at the school-age. Minor and junior hockey levels are:
In Germany, German Ice Hockey Federation designates the following levels:
All levels are administrated by the respective sub-federation in each province except for the federal leagues which are administrated directly by the German Ice Hockey Federation. Ages were raised in 2010/2011.
The Swedish Ice Hockey Federation designates the following levels:
Some levels (especially J18 and J20) are directly administrated by the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation, while lower divisions of the Juniors and below are administrated by the respective sub-federation in each landskap.
|Mite||8 & under||Red, White and Blue, played as cross-ice games|
|Squirt||9-10||Levels AAA, AA, A, B, C|
|Peewee||11-12||Levels AAA, AA, A, B, C|
|Bantam||13-14||Levels AAA, AA, A, B, C|
|Midget Minor 15 and Under||15||Level AAA|
|Midget Minor 16 and Under||ages 15-16||Levels AAA, AA, junior varsity high school-A|
|Midget Major 18 and Under||15-18||Levels AAA, AA, varsity high school-AA and AAA|
|Junior||16 to 20||Cut-off age varies depending on the league|
Girls hockey operates under their own age classifications, namely 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U and 19U.
Many organizations and leagues that have larger numbers of registered players tend to delineate within the two-year window allowed for each age group. In these situations, teams composed entirely or primarily of players in their second year of eligibility are designated 'major' teams, while those with players in their 1st year of eligibility are designated "minor" teams. (For example, ten-year-olds would be "squirt majors" while nine-year-olds would be "squirt minors".) This is especially true in "AAA".
Some leagues separate players six years old and younger into their own group, often referred to using names like "Mini-Mites", "Mosquitoes", or "Microns."
USA Hockey designates four skill levels:
The Amateur Athletic Union has returned to licensing the sport of ice hockey.
During the 2011-2012 season the AAU began licensing junior and youth leagues as well. The Western States Hockey League (WSHL) moved their operations from USA Hockey into AAU and Hockey Michigan was formed, providing Mite (8-and-under) conventional full-ice playing opportunities in the face of cross-ice mandates adopted by the USA Hockey district affiliate. During the 2012-2013 season, AAU junior and youth operations expanded rapidly and currently span coast to coast.
Although some AAU clubs still use classification terms such as "mites" or "midgets", the official AAU youth designations indicate the age group with the format "xU", where "x" is the maximum age number and the "U" indicates "and under".
Officials for youth hockey are often youth players themselves, calling games in lower levels than the one they participate in themselves. Just as players start out playing youth hockey, officials start their officiating career officiating youth hockey, making it up through the ranks as their officiating skill increases. USA Hockey defines certain levels of their officials and so does Hockey Canada and the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Currently, many youth officials quit after a few games, mainly due to verbal abuse from parents, coaches and players. The other issue faced by young referees is a reluctance from older officials to give them more advanced games. In the US and Canada, news stories pop up from now and then that describes physical abuse on youth officials, in addition to verbal abuse. These problems were addressed in Hockey Canada's "Relax, it's just a game"-campaign, which started in 2002.
A youth official can usually move up the ladder to juniors after about 2 years of officiating, and after a few years move up to senior hockey. This is of course, just as with players, different for each individual as their skill-curves are differently shaped.
Many current and former officials feel that their officiating career has aided them in their professional life as well, being more comfortable with handling critical decisions and upset individuals.