How Many Players Should Be on a Youth Hockey Team?

How Many Players Should Be on a Youth Hockey Team?

Youth Hockey Team Size

Sports are an excellent way for young kids to learn about competition, teamwork, and make friends all simultaneously, and youth hockey is a great sport to learn about all of these things and more. When looking for a league for your child to join, though, be sure to check out the coaches in the league, fellow parents, and how many players will be playing.

Depending on the league size, the number of players available, and the age group, anywhere from 13-20 players should be on a youth hockey team.

Finding the best youth hockey league for your child can be difficult because you want the best experience for your child. By finding out how many players are on a team, you can determine whether each player will be allowed ample ice time to experience the fun of team sports.

Defining Youth Hockey Leagues

For youth hockey, the size of the league a player goes into can make or break that season. If the player is among more peers in a bigger team, they might not have confidence in their skills or play as often as they’d like. But, if they play on a smaller one, there are consequences for that as well, such as having a disadvantage when up against a larger team.

For the most part, each league will have their own guidelines for figuring out how many players should be on each team. Of course, this always starts with determining which league a new player will go in. This can be done according to their age (defined by their birthday) or their size (defined by their weight).

Number of Players According to Age Bracket

For youth hockey leagues, the age groups are what matter the most. Depending on the team and the team’s area, there will be certain restrictions on who gets to play (and how many players there are on a team) at different age levels.

For instance, some leagues like USA Hockey, want to split the different leagues up by their age groups:

  • 8 years and younger – Mite
  • 10 years and younger – Squirt
  • 12 years and younger – Peewee
  • 14 years and younger – Bantam
  • 16 years and younger – Midget
  • 18 years and younger – Midget

These leagues allow kids from the same age group to play at the same level. This is great for the kids in the younger age bracket because it gives them a chance to play against kids they probably know from school or the area in which they live.

As the kids get older, they have a chance to continue with the same kids they have played with and against for years. This allows for friendships and better teamwork to form as time goes along.

Also, depending on the leagues’ size, there may be varying levels of leagues within each age group. For instance, in Minnesota, there are sometimes two, three, and even four different leagues inside each classification.

The leagues might have tryouts for each level to determine the skill levels of each player. Once the players have been assessed, they are placed in a pool in their respective age groups and playing level to be “drafted” to a team.

Mite

Each age group league can have their own limitations as far as the number of kids that are going to be on a youth hockey team. The older the players get, the more experienced they should be and, therefore, fewer players per team.

For the mite leagues, because the children are so young, there will definitely be more players per team if possible. At eight years old and younger, these players are just beginning to understand how to skate and use a stick at the same time, so development is the key for this age group.

With that being said, there are some factors to not have an over-abundance of players per team. For one, if there are enough players and ice rinks in the area, some of the younger groups will play on smaller size rinks. This will allow more players to split into more teams without putting the players in too much trouble with playing on a full-size ice rink.

The other thing some leagues will do is to just shrink standard size rinks with cones to ensure players stay within certain boundaries. Again, this is so players do not have to skate on full-sized rinks.

The number of players for a mite team might range anywhere from 20 up to around 25, depending on sign-ups and how many teams there are in each league. The higher number allows more players to be put on the ice and not tire out across the entire season.

Squirt

The squirt leagues will have various changes compared to the mite leagues, but just like any youth league, it will depend on what the league sizes are, the local rules, the amount of rink space leagues have to use, etc.

The players will still be developing for squirt leagues, so the rink size will probably not be full size just yet. But, the players can stretch their legs a little more and can probably skate for more extended periods than the mite leagues. Because of this, there will likely be fewer players per team.

The squirt teams will most likely have player totals per team range from 18 to 24. This allows for at least two goalies, and then 3 to 3.5 lines per team. A line of players usually consists of five kids in total—three offensive and two defensive players.

As the age groups become older, the resemblance to what the professional game looks like begins to take shape more and more.

Peewee

Peewee hockey is when coaches and parents can begin to start seeing more significant leaps and bounds between players’ skill levels on the ice. At this point, most of the players have been playing for at least two years, if not more, so they know where to go on the ice and may even have tactical plans in place.

This is the time that the full-length rink begins to come into play; this means that players will be stretching their legs out as much as the older groups will be. Still, because they have not played on this sized rink before, it will take some time to get used to it.

There will be about the same number of players as the squirt group for the peewee age group (18-24), but it also depends on the leagues and the number of players available.

This is because the size of the rink lengthens out, so players will be a little more tired than usual. Having those extra players will help across the entire season as players play games and practice anywhere from three to five times a week.

Bantam

The bantam hockey age group is where players can begin to blossom. Like any travel/AAU sports, right around the high school age, or the 13-14 year range, is where players can show off their skills against their peers at a higher rate.

At this point, the male players are beginning to hit puberty, which means some players are beginning to hit growth spurts and put on muscle. The rink sizes are still full-length, but now players can start putting some power behind shots, and the game might become a little more physical.

In most youth hockey leagues, especially those below the bantam class, there is usually a rule against checking. Checking in hockey is where a player uses their hip, shoulder, and/or side of their body to hit an opposing player into the boards to eliminate their opponent from the play.

It depends on the league, but the bantam age group is just about when some leagues start to allow checking and other physical play in games. Most coaches will practice the safe ways in which to hit another player and how to get hit. There are also teachings for the best and the worst times in which hitting an opponent is appropriate.

For the size of the teams in the bantam age group, there will be fewer than those teams in the peewee age group. This is due to a couple of factors:

  1. Players in this age group generally have been playing for at least four years, so they are experienced in gameplay and know how long games can last and, therefore, conserve energy.
  2. At this age, there are not going to be many newer players playing hockey for the first time. This means that there will be fewer lessons to be taught and more nuances of the game to be learned.
  3. Along with fewer newer players, you will start to see players drop out because they no longer wish to play hockey. Around this age is when kids begin to gain a little control of their lives, and some chose not to play particular sports anymore.

With all that being said, right around 18-20 players is generally the number of kids you’ll see per team. This, again, allows for a couple of players to play goalie and then have three lines for the team to condition their players properly.

Midget

Midget hockey is the cream of the crop, and this is where players who have been playing for a long time can begin to see their skills really develop.

The midget league can be split into two different groups, as determined by the players’ ages. For some leagues, this means players are playing against opponents that are three and sometimes four years older than they are.

For most leagues, especially in those areas where hockey is not too popular as a youth sport, this is where you might have leagues that play ages 15 through 18 together. Generally, that is the high school age group, where some schools (especially in the northern parts of the United States) have hockey as an extracurricular in high school.

This is also the age that some of the more experienced and more skilled players would rather play on travel hockey teams than youth recreational teams. The travel teams allow the players to play against more skilled teams in tournaments across various cities and states to develop their skills to be better players.

These tournaments are also where colleges and semi-professional teams will scout players to try and sign to play for their teams/universities.

For most recreational leagues, the midget league is where there will be the least number of players on teams.

At this point, players are in it for the long haul, meaning they plan on playing the sport through college and potentially join adult leagues later in life. Along with that, there will be fewer new players in leagues and more players willing to drop out of competitions.

That said, if a league can have an appropriate number of teams to compete with, the ideal target for the number of players per league would be around 18 total. Some teams can get by with fewer players than 18, but they will be at a competitive disadvantage than other teams with more players.

Number of Players According to Size

In other leagues, however, they might split the different groups by the size of the kids. While this is more common for youth football leagues, a few youth hockey leagues will also split the kids up by their size.

This can be crucial later as the kids get older because some kids will grow and mature faster than others, which can lead to advantages on the ice. So while you might not see this for the mite, squirt, and peewee leagues, there is a chance that in the older midget leagues, players might have to weigh-in before they can be put onto a team.

For size bracket leagues, there is the chance that a more developed youth player might get thrown into an older league because they are the same size as the other players. Some leagues have an option for a waiver to be requested to keep players down a level if the player’s parents and the coaches feel that the player would be better suited to play below their expected league.

Exceptions to Number of Players Found on a Team

While it would be nice if all leagues and teams were all able to fit inside one nice clean bubble, there are bound to be exceptions to the rules put into place in some leagues.

As we mentioned, some waivers can be requested by players’ parents to have their child play down an age/size group if they feel their child is at such a disadvantage playing up.

For the most part, these are for players who have not had enough experience in the game to keep up with the older players. Other times, it might be for a medical reason that a player wishes to be kept down.

Along with playing down a league, some players wish to play up a league against older players. These players are usually the more skilled and advanced players, who might be too good for their own age group. Therefore, they would be better off playing against older players who might have a better skill set match.

If you have a physically or mentally challenged child, there are some leagues that can offer them a chance to play in certain games. There are even some leagues full of players of that same nature, with USA Hockey being a big proponent of two special leagues: USA Special Hockey and USA Disabled Hockey.

Each of these special leagues will vary in the number of players depending on players available for a specific region.

These two leagues are great because they allow for those with physical or mental challenges to participate in activities with others like them. It also allows them to feel great as they get to play the same game that the rest of the hockey world does with their peers.

Conclusion

Youth hockey leagues are a great way for young kids to get a chance to learn about teamwork and competition while having fun on the ice. For the most part, youth hockey teams are set up so that most of the league players will have ample time on the ice to play. They do this by limiting the number of players per team to 13-20.

With this number of players, each team usually has three lines (of 5 players) plus a goalie or two that can all play a significant amount each game. The younger age groups will lean more on the development of the fundamentals of the game for the players. As the players get older and progress through the age groups, the lessons on fundamentals will start to turn to more nuances and strategies of the game for the players.

Be sure to check out local leagues and find the best one for your child. Coaches and volunteers who help in those leagues are great future role models and can help develop children with life lessons and skill sets they will use for the rest of their lives.