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Junior hockey is a catch-all term used to describe various levels of ice hockey competition for players generally between the ages of 16 and 20 years old. Americanmarker and Canadianmarker junior hockey leagues are considered to be amateur hockey, except for franchises that play in the Canadian Hockey League who are recognized as professional by organizations such as the NCAA as players receive a small stipend. However, the earnings for junior players are invariably far smaller than can be earned in most levels of professional hockey. The vast majority of current NHL players played some level of junior hockey.


Junior hockey in Canada is broken into several tiers, and players aged 16–20 at the beginning of the season are eligible. Hockey Canada is enacting rules designed to limit the number of 16 year olds allowed to play junior hockey, preferring most remain at the midget level.


Major-Junior hockey is overseen by the Canadian Hockey League, which acts as the governing body for its three constituent leagues:

The CHL currently places a cap of three 20 year old or overage players per team, while only four 16 year olds are permitted. While Fifteen year old players were formerly permitted to play a limited number of games per season at the CHL level, they are now permitted to play only if they are deemed exceptional by the CHL. The only player to qualify under this rule thus far is John Tavares. CHL teams are currently permitted two imports, or European players each, though this cap is expected to be reduced to one within a couple of seasons.

CHL teams are considered professional by the NCAA; thus any player who plays a game at the Major Junior level loses their eligibility to play for American universities. They retain eligibility for Canadian universities however, and all three leagues have programs in place to grant scholarships for any player who plays in these leagues provided they do not turn professional once their junior career ends. Many of the top North American prospects for the NHL play in the CHL.

The champion of each league competes in an annual tournament with a predetermined host team for the Memorial Cup, Canada's national Major Junior championship.

Up until 1970, the leagues that became Major Junior and Junior A today were both known as Junior A. In 1970 they were divided into Tier I Junior A or Major Junior A and Tier II Junior A. In 1980, the three Major Junior A leagues opted for self control over being controlled by the branches of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and became Major Junior hockey, Tier II Junior A became the top tier of hockey in these branches and became Junior A hockey.

Junior A

Junior A hockey is one level below the CHL. Junior A was referred to as Tier II Junior A in the 1970s, until what was called Major Junior A broke away from their regional branches in 1980 and became the Canadian Hockey League and Major Junior hockey, at this time, the term Tier II was dropped from what is now Junior A hockey. It is governed by the Canadian Junior Hockey League, which oversees ten constituent leagues across Canada. The national championship is the Royal Bank Cup. This level of hockey was created in 1970 when the Major Junior level broke away from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, although the affiliation was later amended.

Junior A teams are considered amateur by the NCAA, thus players intending to go to American universities tend to choose this route rather than play in the CHL. Junior A teams tend to play in much smaller markets than CHL teams, and thus play to much smaller crowds.

Some leagues that refer to themselves as Junior A also operate outside the control of the CJHL and Hockey Canada. Presently, the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League in Ontario is operating as a rebel league. The WHA Junior West Hockey League is another such league, though it has apparently folded.

Junior B, C, D

Junior B was created in 1933, to differentiate between teams capable for Memorial Cup competition and those who were not. The major championships across Canada are the Sutherland Cup in Southern Ontario, the Carson Trophy in the Ottawa District, the Coupe Dodge in Quebecmarker, the Don Johnson Cup in the Atlantic Provincesmarker, and the Keystone Cup which represents all of Western Canada, from British Columbiamarker to Northwestern Ontario.

Junior C is generally a local based system, but is considered competitive in some regions, and serve as seeding or farm-teams for Junior B teams. Ontario Junior C Hockey has 6 rounds of playoffs (up to 42 games of best-of-seven playoff rounds) for the Clarence Schmalz Cup which was first awarded in 1938. The Ontario playdowns are played for between 6 of the Province's 7 different regional leagues. In Quebec and West of Manitoba, Junior C hockey tends to be an extension of the local minor hockey system and is sometimes called Juvenile or House League. In Ontario, Manitoba, and the Maritimes, Junior C is run independently of minor hockey systems, though with the same mostly recreational purpose.

Junior D was popular in the 1960s and 1970s in dense population centers, but fell off in the early 1990s. In Quebec, Junior D is now known as Junior B and is run strictly by minor hockey associations. The last great Junior D league is not even a D league at all. The OHA's Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League is the accumulation of the merger of the Northern, Western, and Southern Junior D leagues in the late 1980s. At 16 teams, the league renamed itself a Junior Development league in the early 1990s, and the SOJHL in 2006. In recent years, the SOJHL has been trying to get itself declared a Junior C league.

Teams at the lower level of junior hockey tend to operate as extensions of local minor hockey systems. While some future NHLers come from the lower levels of junior hockey, they are few. There is no national governing body at these levels, only provincial.

United States

As in Canada, junior hockey in the United States is subdivided into several levels. Presently, there are nine American teams in the Canadian Hockey League, most of them in the WHL, where five teams operate in Washingtonmarker and Oregonmarker. Outside of the CHL, the United States does not have any other Major Junior Hockey.

Tier 1 Junior A

The United States Hockey League (USHL) is currently the only Tier 1 Junior A league in the country, it consists of teams in the central and Midwestern US. The USHL provides an alternative to Major Junior Hockey for kids who want to play in the NCAA. While playing in the USHL, all player expenses are paid for by the team, no membership or equipment fees. Unlike Major Junior teams however, the pro drafting is significantly less and the free-college stipend does not exist (CHL teams pay for 1 year college for every year a player is on the team, typically after they leave). Tier 1 Junior A in the US is roughly on par with Junior A in Canada, though the actual skill levels may vary by region. Although the 2006 and 2007 World Junior A Championships were won by Canada West defeating Canada East in both finals, Team USA did make a fine showing both years and all members of the select team came from the USHL. 11 Junior A Championship players were drafted to the NHL in 2007, 2 in the first round, but all the draftees came from Russia and two Canadian teams. Quality of play in the USHL has improved to Junior A levels in the past 15 years, with about 10% of NHL players having played USHL in their career (compared with 40% who have played NCAA Div I at some time). 40 to 60 percent of USHL players go on the play NCAA hockey, as this is the main reason for playing Tier I A instead of Major Junior in Canada. Many consider the Canadian CIS or American NCAA collegiate systems above this level of play, though under the CHL Major Junior leagues. Tier I Junior A is typically a NCAA feeding system.

Tier 2 Junior A

Currently the North American Hockey League is the only Tier 2 Junior A league in the United States. The NAHL consists mostly of teams playing in the central and southwestern parts of the United States. The NAHL, like the USHL, provides young players an alternative to Major Junior Hockey, although the skill level is significantly lower than Major Junior (CHL) hockey and typically filled with those who would not or did not make the roster of a Tier 1 team. While playing in the NAHL, all player expenses minus room and board are paid for by the team. This is similar to some of the lower Junior B teams in Canada, and typically a feeding system for NCAA Div I or III.

Tier 3 Junior A

The United States currently has six Tier 3 Junior A leagues, the Atlantic Junior Hockey League, the Eastern Junior Hockey League, the Central States Hockey League, the Minnesota Junior Hockey League, the Northern Pacific Hockey League, and the Western States Hockey League. In addition to paying for room and board, players at the Tier 3 level pay a fee, commonly ranging from $4,000 to $6,500. This is for all accounts and purposes an amateur league and players have a chance to go to a Division I school but most likely go to a Division III school. This league was formerly known as Junior B or Junior C before the Tier A I/II/III renaming in 2006.

Tier 3 Junior B

In the United States there are four leagues that are now given the Junior B designation. These Leagues are the Empire Junior B Hockey League, Metropolitan Junior Hockey League, Great Lakes Junior Hockey League, and the Continental Hockey Association Premier Division.

Tier 3 Junior C

In The United States there are two leagues considered to be Junior C. These Leagues are Continental Hockey Association, and the Southeast Junior Hockey League.


There are many other leagues that call themselves Junior A teams but are in fact independent. Independent leagues fall outside of the junior structure provided by USA Hockey. Examples of independent leagues are the Northern Junior Hockey League. These leagues claim to be comparable to Junior A leagues but due to the lack of regulation, the actual level of play may vary.


In Europe, junior teams are usually associated with a professional team, and are used by professional teams to develop their own talented youngsters. One example of this is the J20 SuperElit league in Swedenmarker.

The lack of an amateur draft in Europe means that the onus is on the teams to sign the most talented youngsters they can get, and the presence of an affiliated junior team provides a place for young players who aren't yet ready for the rigours of the professional game to develop. However, not all players on a European junior team are necessarily the property of their professional club, and may elect to sign elsewhere.

See also

External links


  1. press release NT078
  3. [1] Behind the Net

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