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Q&A: Tier 1 Hockey in Minnesota

By Minnesota Hockey, 03/29/16, 10:00AM CDT

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In 2015, Minnesota Hockey announced a new opportunity for its members with the introduction of Tier 1 Hockey. Because Minnesota Hockey is unique with community-based hockey, the new Tier 1 offerings have generated many questions.

Minnesota Hockey’s New Hockey Programs Manager, Mike Terwilliger took the time to answer some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received about the expansion of Tier 1 hockey in Minnesota.

How does Tier 1 benefit hockey players in Minnesota?

Tier 1 hockey is designed for the top players within each USA Hockey affiliate to play against top competition at a particular age classification. In Minnesota, our top  players play with their in-season high school teams or their association teams. This community-based model is unique to Minnesota and something that we want to enhance and preserve.

The benefit of adding Tier 1 hockey in Minnesota is that it gives those players the opportunity for more development, more competition and the possibility to play in a national championship. However, in Minnesota, Tier 1 teams will only play before the start of the Minnesota Hockey or Minnesota State High School League seasons start.

Are age classifications at Tier 1 different than they are for Minnesota Hockey?

Yes, age classifications for Tier 1 are organized by birth year, per USA Hockey rules. So it is possible that a player may be playing with other players who he or she would not be playing with or against during the regular season within Minnesota Hockey.

For the 2016-17 season, the age classification birth years are: 14’s (2002), 15’s (2001), 16’s (2000) and 18’s for Youth (1998 and 1999) and 19’s for Girls (1997, 1998 and 1999).

What does it look like?

Last year was the first year of the Tier 1 program in Minnesota. Our Tier 1 teams at the 18U Youth levels and the 19U Girls/16U Girls levels were the teams that comprised the Upper Midwest High School Elite Leagues. The 16U Tier 1 teams at the Youth level came from the Minnesota Elite Prep Development League.

This year, those Leagues will once again serve as Minnesota Hockey’s Tier 1 offerings for those particular levels. We will also be introducing Leagues at the 14 and 15 levels for both Youth and Girls. Those Leagues will be organized and governed by Minnesota Hockey and the names of the Leagues will be announced very soon.

Are there other sanctioned Tier 1 programs in Minnesota?

Shattuck St. Mary’s school is the only other sanctioned Tier 1 program outside of the new Fall Tier 1 program.

Minnesota Hockey does sanction some private, school-based teams under the local association where the school is located allowing players to play with their classmates. These teams are classified as Minnesota Hockey “B” level teams, and are not sanctioned Tier 1 teams.

Will there be Peewee Tier 1 teams?

No, the Tier 1 classification only exists for classifications which USA Hockey conducts National Championships for, Bantam (14U) level and above.

How do we know if our child can play Tier 1 hockey and how do we get signed up?

For the 14 and 15 levels classifications, each Minnesota Hockey district will hold a tryout in August to select their district team. To be eligible for tryouts, players should have played on an A/AA team or their high school team during the 2015-16 season. If your association did not field an A/AA team, B players are eligible to tryout. For additional information contact your District Director or Minnesota Hockey.

For other age classifications, the leagues establish their own tryout criteria and process.

What teams are included in each league?

At the 14 and 15 classifications, teams are organized into nine teams based on the Minnesota Hockey district the player resides in. Districts 4 and 9, 11 and 12, and 15 and 16 will have combined teams.

Other age classifications (16, 18 & 19) are organized differently, as the leagues determine how their teams are formed.

Does the Tier 1 opportunity mean that Minnesota is moving away from its "community-based" model?

Absolutely not. In fact, the reason for the pre-season structure is to enhance and preserve our community-based model. With this structure, players will play for their local association teams or high school teams during the regular season and have the opportunity to compete for a national championship.

The community-based model has been unmatched in not only developing the most elite hockey players in the country, but also boasts that we have the most players in the country. There is nothing like playing for your community and playing with your friends, and we wanted to make sure we stayed true to that when offering our Tier 1 structure.

What does this mean for high school hockey in Minnesota?

There should be no change. As they have in the past, the Tier 1 leagues (Midwest High School Elite League (boys and girls) and the Minnesota Elite Prep Development League), will go dormant prior to the start of the high school season in Minnesota. The only difference will be that should a Minnesota Tier 1 team qualify for the national tournament by winning the Minnesota District Playoff in the fall, they will have the opportunity to participate in the National Championship in the spring.

That national tournament takes place after the Minnesota State High School League tournaments have concluded, typically in late March, or early April. Players on that National Tournament qualifying team will come back together at that time.

How is Tier 1 hockey in Minnesota going to be different than Tier 1 across the rest of the country?

Most Tier 1 teams in other areas of the country play together for the entire season. The players on Tier 1 teams don’t play for their high school teams or their association teams. They tend to do more travel throughout the season, whereas in Minnesota, our Fall Tier 1 teams will have limited travel with most, if not all games taking place within the state borders. 

How long does the Tier 1 season last? Can my child play for their community association?

The Tier 1 seasons for the 14, 15 and 16 (Youth) classifications will start in August, and will be completed by early October. This will allow associations to hold tryouts for their Bantam and 15U teams when they typically would, with little to no interruption.

For upper age classifications, those seasons start later, and will be completed prior to the high school seasons.

So yes, players will still play for their association or high school team.

How many games are included in a Minnesota Tier 1 season?

The 14 and 15 seasons will include 15 to 17 games depending on a particular team’s performance in the league and district playoffs.

At the higher classifications, the respective leagues determine the number of games.

If my child doesn't play Tier 1, will they fall behind?

Not at all. There will be players who don’t participate in Fall Tier1 hockey for any number of reasons, whether they want to devote their time to a Fall sport, an injury, or just want a break from hockey.

There are many hockey players who haven’t played in these leagues who went on to successful hockey careers after high school. But for those players who are skilled enough to make a team in one of the designated Tier 1 leagues, the option is there.

We also did our best at the 14 and 15 classifications to schedule games and practices that would allow for Fall sport participation.

How does the Tier 1 Fall program affect my players’ ability to be selected for the Spring HP programs?

The Fall Tier 1 program is not a feeder into the Spring HP programs.  It’s been our experience that there is around a 50% turnover from one year to the next in our HP programs.  Quite a bit of development can happen within the span of a year, so parents and players don’t need to be worried that a players’ status in the Fall Tier 1 program will have an effect in the Spring, and vice versa.  

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In 2015, Minnesota Hockey announced a new opportunity for its members with the introduction of Tier 1 Hockey. Because Minnesota Hockey is unique with community-based hockey, the new Tier 1 offerings have generated many questions.

Minnesota Hockey’s New Hockey Programs Manager, Mike Terwilliger took the time to answer some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received about the expansion of Tier 1 hockey in Minnesota.

How does Tier 1 benefit hockey players in Minnesota?

Tier 1 hockey is designed for the top players within each USA Hockey affiliate to play against top competition at a particular age classification. In Minnesota, our top  players play with their in-season high school teams or their association teams. This community-based model is unique to Minnesota and something that we want to enhance and preserve.

The benefit of adding Tier 1 hockey in Minnesota is that it gives those players the opportunity for more development, more competition and the possibility to play in a national championship. However, in Minnesota, Tier 1 teams will only play before the start of the Minnesota Hockey or Minnesota State High School League seasons start.

Are age classifications at Tier 1 different than they are for Minnesota Hockey?

Yes, age classifications for Tier 1 are organized by birth year, per USA Hockey rules. So it is possible that a player may be playing with other players who he or she would not be playing with or against during the regular season within Minnesota Hockey.

For the 2016-17 season, the age classification birth years are: 14’s (2002), 15’s (2001), 16’s (2000) and 18’s for Youth (1998 and 1999) and 19’s for Girls (1997, 1998 and 1999).

What does it look like?

Last year was the first year of the Tier 1 program in Minnesota. Our Tier 1 teams at the 18U Youth levels and the 19U Girls/16U Girls levels were the teams that comprised the Upper Midwest High School Elite Leagues. The 16U Tier 1 teams at the Youth level came from the Minnesota Elite Prep Development League.

This year, those Leagues will once again serve as Minnesota Hockey’s Tier 1 offerings for those particular levels. We will also be introducing Leagues at the 14 and 15 levels for both Youth and Girls. Those Leagues will be organized and governed by Minnesota Hockey and the names of the Leagues will be announced very soon.

Are there other sanctioned Tier 1 programs in Minnesota?

Shattuck St. Mary’s school is the only other sanctioned Tier 1 program outside of the new Fall Tier 1 program.

Minnesota Hockey does sanction some private, school-based teams under the local association where the school is located allowing players to play with their classmates. These teams are classified as Minnesota Hockey “B” level teams, and are not sanctioned Tier 1 teams.

Will there be Peewee Tier 1 teams?

No, the Tier 1 classification only exists for classifications which USA Hockey conducts National Championships for, Bantam (14U) level and above.

How do we know if our child can play Tier 1 hockey and how do we get signed up?

For the 14 and 15 levels classifications, each Minnesota Hockey district will hold a tryout in August to select their district team. To be eligible for tryouts, players should have played on an A/AA team or their high school team during the 2015-16 season. If your association did not field an A/AA team, B players are eligible to tryout. For additional information contact your District Director or Minnesota Hockey.

For other age classifications, the leagues establish their own tryout criteria and process.

What teams are included in each league?

At the 14 and 15 classifications, teams are organized into nine teams based on the Minnesota Hockey district the player resides in. Districts 4 and 9, 11 and 12, and 15 and 16 will have combined teams.

Other age classifications (16, 18 & 19) are organized differently, as the leagues determine how their teams are formed.

Does the Tier 1 opportunity mean that Minnesota is moving away from its "community-based" model?

Absolutely not. In fact, the reason for the pre-season structure is to enhance and preserve our community-based model. With this structure, players will play for their local association teams or high school teams during the regular season and have the opportunity to compete for a national championship.

The community-based model has been unmatched in not only developing the most elite hockey players in the country, but also boasts that we have the most players in the country. There is nothing like playing for your community and playing with your friends, and we wanted to make sure we stayed true to that when offering our Tier 1 structure.

What does this mean for high school hockey in Minnesota?

There should be no change. As they have in the past, the Tier 1 leagues (Midwest High School Elite League (boys and girls) and the Minnesota Elite Prep Development League), will go dormant prior to the start of the high school season in Minnesota. The only difference will be that should a Minnesota Tier 1 team qualify for the national tournament by winning the Minnesota District Playoff in the fall, they will have the opportunity to participate in the National Championship in the spring.

That national tournament takes place after the Minnesota State High School League tournaments have concluded, typically in late March, or early April. Players on that National Tournament qualifying team will come back together at that time.

How is Tier 1 hockey in Minnesota going to be different than Tier 1 across the rest of the country?

Most Tier 1 teams in other areas of the country play together for the entire season. The players on Tier 1 teams don’t play for their high school teams or their association teams. They tend to do more travel throughout the season, whereas in Minnesota, our Fall Tier 1 teams will have limited travel with most, if not all games taking place within the state borders. 

How long does the Tier 1 season last? Can my child play for their community association?

The Tier 1 seasons for the 14, 15 and 16 (Youth) classifications will start in August, and will be completed by early October. This will allow associations to hold tryouts for their Bantam and 15U teams when they typically would, with little to no interruption.

For upper age classifications, those seasons start later, and will be completed prior to the high school seasons.

So yes, players will still play for their association or high school team.

How many games are included in a Minnesota Tier 1 season?

The 14 and 15 seasons will include 15 to 17 games depending on a particular team’s performance in the league and district playoffs.

At the higher classifications, the respective leagues determine the number of games.

If my child doesn't play Tier 1, will they fall behind?

Not at all. There will be players who don’t participate in Fall Tier1 hockey for any number of reasons, whether they want to devote their time to a Fall sport, an injury, or just want a break from hockey.

There are many hockey players who haven’t played in these leagues who went on to successful hockey careers after high school. But for those players who are skilled enough to make a team in one of the designated Tier 1 leagues, the option is there.

We also did our best at the 14 and 15 classifications to schedule games and practices that would allow for Fall sport participation.

How does the Tier 1 Fall program affect my players’ ability to be selected for the Spring HP programs?

The Fall Tier 1 program is not a feeder into the Spring HP programs.  It’s been our experience that there is around a 50% turnover from one year to the next in our HP programs.  Quite a bit of development can happen within the span of a year, so parents and players don’t need to be worried that a players’ status in the Fall Tier 1 program will have an effect in the Spring, and vice versa.

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