Junior Hockey; What the Tier?

Posted by Staff Writer on Monday, March 16, 2015 Under: Hockey

So you play Junior Hockey under the USA Hockey umbrella, which means you fall into one of three tiers that USA Hockey has coined as their level of play, for the Junior hockey level. To be fair and before I delve into the tier's of USA Hockey's Junior hockey system. I will briefly explain what each, "Tier" is and give a brief description on it's level of play & function. 

Before I do that, it should be noted. I am taking the time to write this piece because, well, for lack of a better word, I, want to clear the air and set the record straight on a few things when discussing the different level(s) of play within USA Hockey's, Junior hockey structure. There have been countless times throughout the past seasons of discussions that go something like this,
"Yeah, that team is good but they play in such a crap league."
"Why, is that kid playing there? Just garbage of a league."
"There what? Who cares they are in that circus of a league."
"The who? who cares that tier is a gong-show."

And, it goes on and on like a broken record. Perhaps, you have been in these types of conversations before? Well folks I am going to attempt to break this train of thought and introduce a new logic. That I hope people take a moment to think about before the next time they get into a ignorant conversation such as some of the lines noted above. 

Let's discuss the, three-different tier's within USA Hockey's Junior level's: 

1) Tier 1; This is the cream of the crop when it comes to Junior hockey in the United States of America. There is only one league within USA Hockey's Tier 1 level, the Unites States Hockey League (USHL). 17-team league compromised of the finest 20 and under hockey players in the United States. It should be noted the USHL and it's 17-member teams carries a very limited amount of 20-year old's on it's roster. The focus is on 17,18, and 19 year old's. Thus making Tier 1, not only the best Junior league in all the land but perhaps one of the youngest. The USHL has no player fee's.

Tier 2; The North American Hockey League (NAHL). Is the only Tier 2 league within the USA Hockey structure. Just like Tier 1, Tier 2 also does not have player fee's. The NAHL is made up of 24-member teams.

3) Tier 3; Now this is where things become a little more 
interesting. Unlike Tier 1 and Tier 2 having only 1 league each, Tier 3 within USA Hockey currently has 8 separate leagues at the Tier 3 level. They are (in no particular order): 

  1. North American Three Hockey League (NA3HL)
  2. Minnesota Junior Hockey League (MnJHL)
  3. Northern Pacific Hockey League (NPHL)
  4. Metropolitan Junior Hockey League (MJHL)
  5. Eastern Hockey League (EHL)
  6. United States Premier Hockey League - Premier Division (USPHL - Premier)
  7. United States Premier Hockey League - Elite Division (USPHL - Elite)
  8. United States Premier Hockey League - Empire Division (USPHL - Empire)
It is important to note all Tier 3 leagues are, pay to play leagues. Meaning the player is the one who subsides the costs associated with regard to playing Junior hockey at the Tier 3 level. Each league and each team have different rates.It is also worth mentioning that each league has a various amount of teams within each league. To keep things simple, among the 8, USA Hockey Tier III leagues noted above as of date of this article their are over 145-member, USA Hockey Tier 3 programs.

Finally, now that we have that out of the way. I would like to get to the point of this article. And, that is. All though Tier 3 has 8 separate leagues within, USA Hockey Tier 3 itself - no one "league" is better than the next. Honestly, that would be next to impossible to figure out just based on the amount of variables from league to league (i.e.) How teams each league has, etc. Now, before you balk at this notion. Please follow the logic so you can fully understand this rhetoric. 

Remember a league is simply an identity not a level of play. The level of play is set by, USA Hockey and the Junior Council. And, to-date (of this article) their are only 3-Tiers. All explained above. If you are to say, "Well that league is trash." you might as well say "That Tier is trash..." Because, my friend they are one in the same. You cannot possibly tell me the NA3HL is hand over fist better than the MnJHL or the NPHL is in it's own right's better than the MJHL. Now, one could make an argument about the USPHL premier division. That is a debate for another article. 

Honestly though you cannot say that one is better than the other. Why you ask? Because, look at the level of play first. They are ALL TIER 3!!! OK, that's not enough for you because you are crazy and obviously at this point biased towards a certain league/tier/program. But we will continue to help you see the light. Look at the number of teams in each league and tell me the ratio of solid programs is not at least close. For example, let's look at the following two leagues:

League Duster has 12 teams & League Handlebar has 6 teams.
Both leagues participate at the Tier 3 level.
Both leagues can roster the same amount of players.
Both leagues have the same rules applied. 
At the end of each leagues playoff - one team will advance. 

Question: Which league/team would win when the champion of each league above play each other for a championship? 

Answer: THERE IS NO WAY TO KNOW TILL THEY PLAY EACH OTHER. Why? Because it's TIER 3 the same level across the board! 

If you are still saying this league is better than that league. 1) please never advise anyone on what to do with their careers. 2) take a look at the past USA Hockey Tier 3 national championship. Surely you will be surprised by the different leagues represented. 3) Take a look at the current Tier 3 National Rankings - these rank all USA Hockey programs based on strength of schedule, etc. Look at the different leagues and where they are. Specifically the top 30. 

If you still don't understand this logic then, god help you. Bottom line, when it comes to USA Hockey Tier 3 Hockey. I will admit the parody between teams is wider than most would like to admit in terms of top to bottom (1 thru 140+). However, when it comes down to it. The top teams are the top teams for a reason. It really comes down to who the management is and how they run the organization. The exact same goes for the coaching staff, who they are and how they coach/teach. If you have good management and good coaches you are going to have a quality program. Regardless of what "league" you are in. If you have those two things in at the USA Hockey Tier 3 level then you are going to have a stellar production. 

So please the next time you decide to spout off about how, one Tier 3 league is better than the other. Please think about it and realize you sound like an idiot as you make an ignorant statement and really you are offending all of Tier 3 hockey when you do this. It's Tier 3 for a reason, remember that. The leagues have nothing to do with the level of play...

In : Hockey 

Tags: junior hockey  tier 1  tier 2  tier 3  ice hockey  usa hockey  ushl  nahl  mnjhl  ehl 
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