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The ABC's of Hockey League Lingo

By Touchpoint Media, 10/29/19, 8:30AM CDT


When spending time at the rink, you might see or hear letters, words and phrases tossed around that can be a bit confusing.

“James was in Tier I this fall.” “Jennifer played well in HP.” “Have you thought about junior hockey?”

Here’s a guide on hockey league lingo to help you better understand the acronyms and slang used to reference the hockey landscape.

Minnesota Hockey Development Leagues & Programs

HP Programs: The Minnesota Hockey CCM High Performance Spring Programs, often reference as “HP”, are designed to identify and develop the best players in the state from the ages of 14-18 after their association and high school seasons end. At the conclusion of the HP Programs, top players from the 15s, 16s and 17s festivals are selected to represent Minnesota Hockey at the USA Hockey National Player Development Camps, which are used to identify and train potential players to represent Team USA at future tournaments and events.

Tier I: The term Tier I is often used very loosely, but it’s primary purpose is to serve as a classification of teams. Within Minnesota, Tier I is defined as teams who are eligible for USA Hockey’s Tier I National Championships. The only official Tier I teams in Minnesota are those in the Minnesota Hockey CCM HP Tier I Leagues and Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Here are some FAQs on Tier I hockey in Minnesota.

The Elite League: The boys and girls Upper Midwest High School Elite League, or the Elite League as it’s commonly called, provides additional development opportunities for Minnesota’s top boys and girls high school players. The Elite League consists of a 20-plus game schedule in the fall leading up to the high school season. The games are scheduled on weekends, allowing kids to continue playing fall sports and enjoy their high school social and academic activities with friends.

The “Great 8”: The CCM High Performance Ted Brill Great 8 provides the top junior and senior high school players in Minnesota the opportunity to showcase their skills to coaches and scouts from junior, college and pro hockey teams every April. The tournament consists of eight teams and players are nominated by and voted on by high school coaches.

The NIT: The CCM High School National Invitational Tournament, or NIT, is an annual showcase tournament featuring the country’s top boys and girls high school players. Minnesota selects two teams of 20 players, and they compete against teams from Wisconsin, Michigan, Massachusetts and North Dakota.

Junior Hockey in the U.S.

The USHL: The United States Hockey League is the only Tier 1 junior league in the country and is sanctioned by USA Hockey. Many Minnesotans continue to develop their game in the USHL after high school to prepare them for Division I college hockey.

The NTDP: The National Team Development Program is a centralized training program based in Plymouth, Michigan, established and operated by USA Hockey. The NTDP has two teams, U17 and U18, which compete against junior and college teams, as well as in international competitions.

The NAHL: The North American Hockey League, often called “The NA,” is the only Tier 2 junior hockey league in the country and is sanctioned by USA Hockey. Many Minnesotans play in the NAHL after high school to continue their development as a stepping-stone to the USHL, Division I and/or Division III college hockey.

The NA3HL: There are two USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier 3 junior hockey leagues: The Eastern Hockey League (EHL), which operates on the east coast in two divisions; and the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL), often referred to as the “The NA3”, which is run by the NAHL.

USPHL: The U.S. Premier Hockey League is an independent junior hockey league containing several different divisions.

Junior Hockey in Canada

Major Juniors: Otherwise known as the CHL, or Canadian Hockey League, which houses the three top-tier junior hockey leagues in Canada, including the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Once a kid plays one game of Major Juniors, their NCAA eligibility will be voided, which means they can no longer play college hockey.

The WHL: The Western Hockey League, often called “The Dub,” is one of the Major Junior leagues that operates in western Canada and the northwestern U.S.

The OHL: The Ontario Hockey League is another Major Junior league that operates mostly in the province of Ontario with two teams in Michigan and one in Pennsylvania.

The QMJHL: The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, otherwise known as “The Q,” operates in eastern Canada.

Junior A: The Canadian Junior Hockey League oversees 10 different leagues. These are not Major Juniors, meaning players maintain NCAA eligibility. The 10 Junior A leagues are: Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL), Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL), Maritime Junior A Hockey League (MHL), Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL), Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), Quebec Junior Hockey League (LHJQ), Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) and Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL).

Professional Hockey Leagues

The NHL: The National Hockey League, often known as “The Show”, is the premier hockey league in the world.

The AHL: The American Hockey League features teams one step below the NHL. Most NHL teams have an agreement with AHL team(s) in which they share players over the course of the season. It’s common for most players to spend time in the AHL before reaching the NHL.

The ECHL: The East Coast Hockey League is another minor professional league that serves as a farm system for AHL and NHL franchises. Most teams consist of former NCAA and Major Junior players who are trying to progress to the higher leagues.

European Leagues: This article has focused on hockey leagues in North America, but there are also numerous leagues in Europe. The three most well-known professional leagues are the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia, Swedish Elite League (SEL) in Sweden, and SM-liiga in Finland.

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