It has always struck me as a little odd that the USA Hockey age groupings generally are for a two-year period, yet at some levels of play in Michigan we choose to use single birth years when forming teams.
I have to surmise that there must be at least one (or more?) really good reason(s) to form teams this way. But I really couldn’t tell you what they are. If anybody knows, I would love to hear them.
The two-year age group is used at the “B” or House level of play, for Girls hockey and for the Midget age groupings for Tier I and Tier II. In “B” hockey we have 8 & Under, which is typically for 7 and 8 year olds, 10 & Under for 9 and 10 year olds, 12 & Under for 11 and 12 year olds, 14 & Under for 13 and 14 year olds, Midget B for 15 and 16 year olds and Midget BB for 17 and 18 year olds. Girls hockey is 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U and 19U.
Yet Tier I (AAA) and Tier II (A/AA) hockey are predominantly single year age groupings. At the Tier II level the A signifies the first year of the two year group (Squirt A is for 9 year olds) while AA is the second year label (Squirt AA is for 10 year olds). At the Tier I level they are designated as Squirt Minor (9 year olds) and Squirt Major (10 year olds). That holds true through Pee Wee and Bantam as well. But oddly enough, Midget hockey becomes a two-year age group. Midget A is for 15 and 16 year olds and Midget AA for 17 and 18 year olds in Tier II. The same ages are classified as Midget Minor and Midget Major at the Tier I level.
For a number of different reasons, a two-year age grouping makes a great deal of sense for all levels of hockey. Obviously a mechanism would need to be in place to ensure that there were a minimum number of first and second year players on each team so coaches couldn’t load up on second year players. (They wouldn’t do that, would they?)
First and most importantly, would be the benefit to the players as they would have the opportunity to realize the complete hockey experience which would allow them to better develop their skills and knowledge of the game. With a one-year age group, every player is cheated of that opportunity.
As first year players in an age group, most (but not all) players are younger and smaller than the second year players in that group. Obviously a January birth date player wouldn’t be that much behind a December birth date, but generally speaking the second year players would have the opportunity to be the “bigger, stronger, faster, better” players on the team.
Playing with and against older players, the first year players would be pushed or challenged to improve (don’t we hear that one all of the time?) by being put into a situation where they might not have the puck as much and might have to learn a different way to contribute and be successful. They would have to learn to work harder and work smarter just to keep up. They wouldn’t always be that dominant or better player that they might otherwise be every year in a single year age group.
But every second year they would have the opportunity to be one of the better, bigger, stronger, faster players because half of the players that they play with and against would be a year younger than them. Currently many players never get this opportunity. A third liner or 5th or 6th defenseman at Pee Wee A is pretty much going to be in that same role at Pee Wee AA. They are deprived of the opportunity to have the puck more, make plays, be a leader and learn to play the game from that perspective. A two-year age grouping gives them the best of both worlds, the opportunity to compete and develop a complete hockey game.
From a player development standpoint there is no better system. A secondary benefit would be that players wouldn’t have to “play up an age group to be challenged”. They would automatically be doing that every second year.
Secondly, the competitive playing field (or ice surface) would become somewhat more level, which is not only a benefit to the players, but also a benefit to the families paying the bills and to the game itself. Eliminating the ability for teams to load up on all of the best players in a particular age group (because they would be limited to half of their team in that age group) would mean that the wealth would be spread out more. The gap between the haves and the have-nots would close somewhat.
Smaller population areas with a lesser number of players in each age group would be able to be more competitive. Instead of struggling to have two weaker teams in single year age groups (or no team at all), they could ice one stronger two-year age group team at that level of play.
In areas with larger player pools there would be more teams in the two-year age group than in the single year. For example, in looking at the Squirt age group, instead of there being ten A teams and ten AA teams in a given area, there would be twenty two-year age group teams. More different teams is always better. More importantly, more teams that are competitive with one another is always better.
No more super teams
One of the biggest problems with our current system is the ability to create “super teams” because of the nature of how teams are formed. These teams often have a hard time finding competitive games locally so they have to travel far and wide to find teams to play.
Wouldn’t it be great to have competitive hockey within a reasonable geographical area? Making the game more affordable and convenient to play can’t be anything but a plus. However, the dissenters will say that the game would be “watered down” and the level of play not as high and we wouldn’t be able to compete with Canadian teams or the teams from other states in the National Tournament.
How important is it to compete with Canadian teams or teams from across the country anyway? Doesn’t it make more sense to have strong, local, competition? Especially for the “good of the game” and the players in Michigan?
And if we can’t compete with teams from those other places, could it be because our system doesn’t do a good enough job of developing good players? And if we have strong, competitive local hockey, how much does it really matter how competitive we are with teams from other places (aside from the egos of the parents and coaches of course)?
So why the one year age groups at some levels of hockey? Because it is easier? Because it gives coaches more control? Because we can form super-teams to bring home the trophies and national championships? And if two-year age groups work for Tier I and Tier II Midget hockey, why aren’t they used at the other age groups?
Clearly, more players would benefit from using two-year age groupings to form teams. Who benefits from the single year age grouping and why is it in place? Let me know.