Hockey is unique among team sports in that a player must learn individual skills as well as team skills, which essentially amount to the equivalent of learning three separate sports. First there is skating, which is a sport unto itself with its own unique set of skills. To become a skilled skater is the hockey player's first priority and is a tremendous accomplishment. Following that is the game of Hockey itself with the shooting, passing, maneuvering and defending skills it demands, which are difficult enough even on dry ground. Finally, when the skater reaches the age where checking is introduced a whole new set of skills is required, especially those associated with teamwork and sportsmanship.
Most parents are already aware that players are divided by age group for training and competition purposes. They start as Mites, and continue on to Squirts, Pee Wees, Bantams and Midgets. These age groupings are set by USA Hockey rules and all youth hockey organizations in the state follow the same criteria. Age groupings serve to balance competitive levels and prevent injuries to some degree, but even within the various age groups there often exists a wide variation in skill level, experience, and game knowledge, making additional groupings desirable. For example, in any given year at the Squirt level (mostly 9 and 10 year-olds) we will observe players who often have four or five years of experience, as well as those who are on the ice for the first time. When less experienced and beginning players are forced to try to compete with experienced players who have learned and practiced lots of skills, the value of the experience is lessened for everyone involved. In order to have the most fair, educational, and safe experience for our players, team groups are formed within each age group, intended to group players of like experience, skill, and competitive preparedness. These are the various A-teams, B-teams, and C-teams.
A-teams are formed at each age level and are generally comprised of players with the most experience, often the second year players in their age group, who learned skating and game skills at an early age and have practiced these for some time. In addition to some good athletic conditioning, these players have competitive game and tournament experience and these teams will play the most competitive teams from other organizations around the state. A-team participation generally requires the greatest time and financial commitment as they usually attend more away games and tournaments than the other levels. A-teams are typically declared Tier II or Tier III.
B-teams are also competitive teams, playing against other teams of similar make-up from around the state and also require a substantial commitment for practice and travel time. Often comprised of players who are in the first year of their age group, these are still players of advanced skill and experience. Emphasis is not only placed on competition at this level but on team practice and skill development also, as it is the refinement of these skills which help a player advance to the next level. Observing the developmental progress of players and teams at this level can be some of the most excitement youth hockey has to offer. B teams at the mite level will include some cross ice games. B-teams are typically declared Tier IV or Open.
Depending on the number of registrants within each age group, the league will form C-teams from the younger or less experienced players. Generally comprised of beginning players who have learned fundamental skating and hockey basics, these groups are where players acquire the skills and develop experience in competitive situations in order to advance. Skill building is the priority for these teams as they are the source for up-and-coming players to fill vacancies on our travelling teams. Generally, C-teams will travel to other locations to play similar teams from other organizations and test their skills, but our emphasis with these players is on skill development. There is an abundance of tournament opportunities around the region for developmental teams toward the end of the season, and the league can provide information on these to interested parents. C teams at the mite level will include some cross ice games.
We do not measure the success of our organization by the number of games and tournaments we win, but rather that our children learn things like teamwork, sportsmanship, the rewards of hard effort, how to win and lose with grace and style, and other attitudes and skills that will make them better people throughout their lifetime. All while making friends and having some fun in the process.