Tier I vs. AAA


What is the Difference between Tier I and AAA?


If you are confused by, or do not understand the meaning of the terms Tier I and AAA, they are not the same thing, and many people within the DFW hockey community believe they mean the same thing – they do not


USA Hockey does not recognize letter designations such as AAA, AA, A, B, except at the Junior Hockey Level (Texas Tornado is Junior A), nor do they recognize the terms Major and Minor as they relate to a specific birth year within an age group.  Midget Minor U16 and Midget Major U18 are still 2-year age groups. 


Many leagues and tournaments use these terms quite often for various reasons, but when it comes to USA Hockey and National bound competition, these terms are meaningless


USA Hockey does not have "Major" or "Minor" divisions, only 2-year age groups such as U12, U14, U16, and U18 as indicated below.


USA Hockey uses two designations with which to classify teams for National bound competition.  One is level of play, and the other is age classification.   Excerpt from USA Hockey publication “Hockey Education Adult Resource” or H.E.A.R……


"All youth hockey for male and female athletes is broken down according to age level designated by birth year.  The Youth levels are 8 & under (Mites), 10 & under (Squirts), 12 & under (PeeWee), 14 & under (Bantam), 16 & under (Midget Minor) and 18 & under (Midget Major).  For female players, the Levels are Girls/Women’s 10 & under, 12 & under, 14 & under, 16 & under and 19 & under.


Within each age division, there is a further breakdown into ability levels such as House/Recreation, Tier I, and Tier II.  No-check levels have also recently been added for 14, 16 and 18 & under age groups.


USA Hockey breaks down each age level even further into Tier II (intended to be community based travel teams) and Tier I (open try-outs with no geographic boundaries). There is an annual national championship opportunity at both Tiers for 12 & under, 14 & under, 16 & under, and 18 & under players. At the Girls/Women’s national level, there are no Tiers, but there are annual national championships at 12 & under, 14 & under, 16 & under, and 19 & under."



With all this being said, classifying a team as AAA does not mean it is or will be registered as a Tier I team to compete for State, Regional, or National Championships.  The local association declares the Tier level of each team with USA Hockey no later than December 31st


Tier I is the highest level of play, followed by Tier II, then House/Rec.   The key distinguishing difference from Tier I to Tier II is that players may play for teams outside their local geographic area, as long as the team is Tier I.  Typically, these players are "billeted" by a local family, and the player attends a local school while he is playing Tier I hockey. 


Teams at the Tier II level are not allowed to have players from outside their local geographic area, such as billeted players.  Typically, Tier I teams are generally more competitive and play at a higher level, due to the fact that players may come from a wide variety of areas to play for a Tier I team, and the commitment in time and money is more significant. 


In the past, and as recently as the 2005-2006 season, some non-Alliance DFW teams that have been designated AAA by their association have actually been registered as Tier II, and competed for Tier II championships against AA teams - teams that never intended to compete at the AAA level.  Typically, registered Tier II teams are classified by their association as AA, although in Dallas this has not recently been the case with some associations.


You will also notice in the USA Hockey information above that there is no mention of Tier play at the Squirt or Mite levels, thus no National Championships at the Squirt or Mite levels either.  Thus, there is no such thing as Tier I Squirt or Mite recognized by USA Hockey.


Alliance has not, and will not designate a team as AAA and then register it as Tier II – all of our AAA teams have been in the past, and will continue to be in the future, registered as Tier I, and compete for USA Hockey championships at the Tier I level.  This is consistent with the practice of almost every other AAA organization in the U.S.  We are not aware of any other AAA organization (outside DFW) in the country that registers its AAA teams as Tier II.


Alliance might at some point, field teams that are made up of all "Minor" or first year players, but that would be for development purposes and tournament play, not for National bound Tier I competition.  An Alliance all "Minor" team (first year players) would be AA and compete for a Tier II Championship. 


Why is this important? 


If an organization designates their teams as AAA, and are allowed to have their tryouts a week earlier than all other non-AAA teams, they can still register their AAA team as Tier II, and then compete against AA teams for the Tier II championship – those same teams that did not have their tryouts until a week after the AAA (Tier II) team they are now competing with in the State Playoffs.  These AAA teams then also have their tryouts a week earlier than other AA associations for their designated Squirt & Mite "AAA" teams, even though there is no such thing as USA Hockey Tier I Squirt or Mite registration.  Calling them "AAA" is again meaningless to USA Hockey.


Some associations will argue that they will only practice this AAA designation/Tier II registration with their “Minor” teams (teams with all first year players within an age group).  As previously mentioned, USA Hockey does not recognize this practice, and if a team is good enough to be called AAA, they should compete at the Tier I level for championships, regardless of Minor or Major aged players. 


Why does a team or organization strive to be AAA?   For most AAA associations, it is to play at the highest level possible, against the best competition within their own age group, usually on a National level, especially for teams in areas where there are not many AAA hockey teams.   Is it desirable to call yourself AAA all season, play up one step at a AA level in a league, then when USA Hockey playoffs arrive, reveal yourself as a Tier II team and compete against AA teams for a championship?  One such local organization this past season listed six (6) teams at the AAA level, but when playoffs rolled around, only two (2) competed at the Tier I level.  Their other AAA teams either did not compete in the playoffs, or did so at the Tier II level.


As an example, many of the top Tier I U16 teams in the U.S. are all first year Midgets playing against teams with both first and second year players.  For example, this year (2005-2006), the Colorado Thunderbird ’90 team is competing at the Tier I level right along with the Colorado Thunderbird ’89 team in the U16 division.  No other program in the nation that we are aware of calls themselves AAA and then registers as a Tier II team.  They do not use the “Minor” designation as a reason to compete at Tier II. 


In summary, Alliance believes that if DFW teams are going to register and compete at the Tier II level for USA Hockey Championships, they should have their tryouts at the same time as all the other Tier II/AA teams, regardless of whether they choose to call their teams AAA or not.  We believe that only Tier I registered teams should be allowed to have their tryouts a week earlier than Tier II teams.  Designations such as AAA, AA, or other subjective and non-USA Hockey recognized terms should not be used to determine the date which you are allowed to start tryouts.


Making a clear-cut, measurable distinction of which teams can tryout early (Tier I registered teams only) will possibly prevent teams and associations from simply adding an “A” or two to their team designations so they can either have tryouts earlier than the teams they will end up competing with, or recruiting players (and their money) away from another team merely because they are calling themselves AAA instead of AA (all the while still being Tier II).


Alliance will not fall into the trap of adding a 3rd "A" to our AA teams, just so we can attract or retain quality players, yet still classify them as Tier II come time for championship playoffs.  It is deceptive and wrong, and we will not do it, or approve of it being done, regardless of the success as a result of its practice


Alliance will continue to attract top players and families as a result of our quality coaching and training, and pursue National Championships at both the Tier I AAA and Tier II AA levels.


In just the past 4 seasons, Alliance has won 13 State Championships, 7 Rocky Mountain District Championships (3 at Tier I, and 4 at Tier II), and sent 7 teams to the USA Hockey National Championships, with 2 teams each bringing home a National Championship Bronze Medal.























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