Hockey is a sport that helps players learn the rules of the game from a young age.
The key to making it big in the sport is getting started as soon as possible, which can sometimes make it difficult to figure out the exact age bracket to encourage children to start playing in the league.
Minor hockey can be divided into several subcategories from under the age of 8 up until the end of the teenage years.
If a player begins at age five, they can go up a level every couple of years until they are ready to begin playing at the right level with appropriate opponents.
Understanding the levels involved in junior hockey leagues can be confusing (Find out Everything You Need To Know About The NCDC (Is It A Good League?) here). But we’re here to unpack every level of minor hockey that you need to know about.
What Is Minor Hockey?
Minor hockey is an umbrella term for amateur hockey, which is typically played below the junior age level.
All players are classified by their age with each separate age group competing in its league.
Today’s minor hockey levels are extremely competitive, especially at the upper levels (around 15/16 years of age.)
The new system also makes it easier for parents to sign their children up for the right division.
Minor Hockey Levels: USA VS Canada?
Canada and the USA are the most dominant countries for beginning a lucrative ice hockey career.
The careers of many significant players today began in these vast places.
The names and categories of the minor hockey levels differ in the US and Canada, but the age division is generally the same.
Because of this, many players making their way to the top in one area can be recruited to another team within the USA, and vice versa.
Different Hockey Levels
There are distinct differences in the age groups in the USA. All of the following levels are written according to the current USA youth hockey age groups, established in 2016 after breaking from the traditional approach to hockey.
8 Or Under (8U), Formerly “Mini-Mite”
- Age Category: 5-6
- Experience Required: none
- Enrollment Difficulty: 1/10
This is one of the earliest introductions that minors have to the sport of hockey.
Putting them straight into situations where they must learn the ins and outs to guarantee their safety on the ice will instill multiple valuable skills into them from the start of their career.
It will also show them wrong from right when on the ice.
9 Or Under (9U), Formerly “Mite”
- Age Category: 7-8
- Experience Required: show some skill relevant to the experience
- Enrollment Difficulty: 3/10
The journey to becoming a good hockey player becomes more challenging at this stage.
At this point, a hockey player must be able to demonstrate simple skills like communication and listening, and must also be able to show some ice-specific skills.
10 Or Under (10U), Formerly “Squirt”
- Age Category: 9-10
- Experience Required: none, just demonstrate relevant skill and experience
- Enrollment Difficulty: 5/10
Around 9/10 years of age is when the sport becomes a little more competitive.
Players have usually had years of experience before reaching this age where they’ve been given ample time to develop their speed, coordination, and physicality to tackle opponents head-on.
One of the sole reasons parents should enroll their children into a program so early is to develop their skills early on.
If children are to join at this age, they may be a couple of years behind the other players.
12 Or Under (12U), Formerly “Peewee”
- Age Category: 11-12
- Experience Required: possess significant potential, experience, and skill
- Enrollment Difficulty: 6/10
This level expects players to have enough experience to be classified as seasoned in everything excluding their age and physicality.
It might seem a little unfair but around the 11-12 years old mark is the perfect age to begin taking hockey a little more seriously.
14 Or Under (14U), Formerly “Bantam”
- Age Category: 13-14
- Experience Required: no exact experience, just a demonstration of superior skill
- Enrollment Difficulty: 8/10
At this age, a minor hockey player must be able to demonstrate some serious skill while also being an attraction to spectators.
This is accomplished via a mixture of gameplay excellence, charisma, and superior playing compared to their peers.
Having such intense competition is a large reason why this age group in hockey is so competitive.
16 & Under (16U), Formerly “Minor Midget”
- Age Category: 15-16 (US) and 15-17 (Canada)
- Experience Required: good track record, skills equal to competitors, and easy coachability
- Enrollment Difficulty: 9/10
There is a varied age range for this minor hockey level.
This level can sometimes be as difficult to get into as adult hockey as a human’s physical growth isn’t necessarily tied to their age after the age of sixteen.
Heading into tryouts with little to no experience at all will mean that you don’t qualify for hockey at a lower level.
A player must begin to play at least two different levels before properly preparing themselves for this division.
18 & Under (18U), Formerly “Major Midget”
- Age Category: 15-18 (US) and 18-19 (Canada)
- Experience Required: demonstrate advanced skills
- Enrollment Difficulty: 10/10
This is one of the more challenging levels to join if you have no previous experience.
Many tier-one leagues will completely refuse players without significant experience to even try out for the team.
Canadian Youth Hockey Levels
Canada also takes minor hockey seriously.
It is for each child that plays for a local association, with the following classifications:
- Hockey 1 to 4: from age 6-9
- Atom: from age 9-10
- Pee Wee: between ages 11-12
- Bantam: age 13-14
- Midget: between the ages of 15-17
- Juvenile: age 18-19
This is a quick rundown of the different minor hockey levels you need to know about.
It’s always best to start a child in the league as soon as possible so they have the time to develop the relevant skills to make their way through the ranks as quickly as they can.