What Are the Best AAA Youth Hockey Leagues?

What Are the Best AAA Youth Hockey Leagues?

AAA Hockey Leagues

Hockey is a highly competitive sport that requires its players to be continually improving their skills and gameplay. For the select few who are exceptionally good, a AAA youth hockey league may be in the cards. But some players don’t only want to play in their regional league; they want to play in the “best” leagues.

The best AAA youth hockey leagues are the United States Hockey League, Canadian Major Junior Hockey League, Saskatchewan Male U18 AAA Hockey League, Tier 1 Elite Hockey League, Greater Toronto Hockey League, Quebec Junior Hockey League, Alberta Midget Hockey League, and Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League.

Throughout this article, we’ll help you discover the best AAA youth hockey leagues, as well as discuss what AAA youth hockey is, how much it costs, and why children and teenagers should play hockey at all. Now let’s get started!

What Is AAA Youth Hockey?

If you are entirely new to ice hockey and don’t know what any of the terminologies mean or want to learn some more about the sport, this is the perfect place to start. Before we get into the rest of this article, we will go over what AAA youth hockey is, and if you still need more information on this topic, read our article describing how AAA hockey teams are different.

AAA hockey is the highest level available for youth hockey players to compete in North America. In the United States, it is known as Tier 1 hockey, and in Canada, it is known as AAA hockey. This designation was established by the governing body of Amateur and Olympic Hockey in the US, namely USA Hockey. They also determine which youth organizations are permitted to carry a Tier 1/AAA designation.

AAA hockey teams consist of the best youth hockey players in North America and require a certain level of dedication from both players and their families. Most, if not all college and professional hockey players have at least some experience playing AAA hockey. Most of them will even have played it for several years. It offers the best coaching, competition, and development opportunities for high ranking youth hockey players.

However, these benefits also mean that AAA hockey is a lot more expensive than recreational and other hockey levels. So next, we’re going to look at the costs involved in AAA hockey.

What Is the Cost of Playing AAA Hockey?

The cost of playing any sport can become more expensive as the skill level of players increases. There’s a particular price tag that comes with the eliteness of playing at a higher level. So in this section, we’ll take a look at the costs involved in playing at a AAA level.

There are several factors that influence how much it will cost for your kid to play AAA hockey, which we’ll go over briefly here. We’ve also got another article looking into determining if AAA hockey is worth it.

Travel Costs

Travel costs are often the most significant expense when it comes to players in AAA teams. These teams usually play between 55 and 85 games in a season, travelling from city to city and sometimes even across borders, so you can see how the travel costs can rack up quite quickly. Plane tickets, hotel room stays, food, and rental cars all contribute to this expense.

The amount of training sessions AAA players have is often also more than players in other levels, meaning that parents are driving their kids to the ice rink more times per week, meaning that travel costs will shoot up even more. This expense can also vary greatly depending on what part of the country you live in.

Ice Rink Costs

The next expense parents have to think about is the money they’ll have to pay for their kid to have access to an ice rink to practice on. This expense has steadily been on the rise because the number of community rinks is declining while the number of privately owned rinks are growing. This means that these private rink owners can realistically charge as much as they want for you to access their facility.

Often, the AAA teams that your child is a part of will have a designated ice rink that they train at, and you’ll have to pay whatever the facility charges if you want your child to play with the team.

Equipment Costs

Next, let’s talk about the bane of every parent’s existence; equipment. Not only is equipment for AAA players ridiculously expensive (because it always has to be the “best of the best”), it also needs to be replaced every few years because kids just keep on growing.

There’s a lot of equipment needed to keep your kid safe while they are out on the ice; think headgear, mouth guards, shin pads, elbow pads, and shoulder pads. Then there’s skates and sticks, and on top of all those costs, there’s your kid’s team’s gear that goes over the top of all that other stuff.

The cost of your kid’s hockey equipment will also vary depending on what position they play. For instance, goalies need a lot more protective (and often specialized) equipment than the rest of the team, which means that their equipment’s expense will be higher naturally.

Be sure to take a look at our article covering the average cost of hockey equipment if you’re looking to learn more on this topic.

Coaching and Admin Costs

Let’s face it: playing for a AAA team means paying for a AAA coach. Coaches are hand-picked to coach these “elite” teams because of their ability to bring out the best in every player. But it also means that parents have to pay for this privilege.

AAA team coaches are often from out of town or even out of state. So not only do parents have to pay for the expertise of a better coach, they have to cover travel and lodging costs as well. This can quickly bring up the price of playing in a AAA team.

Another thing that can bring up the price of being in a AAA is the administrative costs. These usually include some sort of ice rink admin fee and the entry fees to a lot of the competitions that these teams play in.

It is challenging to get an accurate number for the costs of playing AAA hockey because it varies so much depending on the combination of the factors mentioned above. Still, a rough estimate of how much it might cost is between $10 000 and $20 000 per season.

Why Should Children and Teens Play Hockey?

If you can foot the bill of having your kid play in a AAA team, many great benefits can come from it.

The first of these is that playing hockey is hugely beneficial to your health. It keeps players physically fit, develops their mental agility and reflexes, and is also an excellent way of dealing with negative emotions.

It also helps people (especially younger kids) develop good social skills and gives them the ability to learn how to work well with others to achieve a common goal. These skills will be beneficial to them no matter what stage of life they are in or what kind of situations they have to deal with.

Now aside from all of the benefits that you can get from playing hockey at any level, players will get a few more benefits from being part of a AAA team. The first of these is that they will be pushed to be the very best hockey players that they can be. The healthy competitions between teammates will make players push themselves, and as a result, they will develop their skill set even further than they thought they could.

Possibly one of the most incredible benefits of playing for a AAA team for players who want to take their hockey careers further is the exposure they get by going to competitions. Scouts from universities, colleges, and major league teams often come to watch AAA teams play and recruit them to play for professional or collegiate teams in the future.

This can be great, but it can also put a lot of unnecessary pressure on younger players to start performing at a much higher level from a much younger age. Many people have an issue with the AAA teams and leagues for this reason, because they feel that it is pushing young players to focus on performance rather than development and enjoyment.

Youth Hockey Leagues: A Brief Overview

While there are usually several smaller hockey leagues within each US state and Canadian province, there are some bigger leagues that span across a larger area. They allow the teams playing in these leagues to act as a development system for players to move into the major leagues.

On the road to potentially playing on a major league team, college team, or another professional team, there are several other leagues youth players can play in to get noticed and potentially recruited by one of those teams.

We’ll go through a list of the top-rated leagues in North America that youth players can play in.

Canadian Hockey League (CHL)

The Canadian Hockey League is an organization that represents the three major junior hockey leagues across Canada, namely the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and Western Hockey League (WHL). Each of these leagues plays separately, and then the champion team from each of the leagues (plus one host team) come together for the Memorial Cup to crown a national winner.

The Ontario Hockey League is based out of Ontario and is one of the best tier-one hockey leagues in Canada and the United States. They have teams in both Canada and the United States. This league has a direct affiliation with Hockey Canada, and many players who have played in this league have gone on to play professionally.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is the only one of the three CHL leagues that only have teams in Canada. It includes teams from Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. This league has produced many great players that have gone on to have great professional careers.

The Western Hockey League is another one of the top major junior hockey leagues in Canada and the United States. It has teams from Western Canada and the Northwestern United States. Numerous players who have played in a WHL team have played professional hockey, with some even drafted into the NHL. Junior players who play in this league have a genuine possibility of continuing into a pro career.

United States Hockey League (USHL)

The United States Hockey League is named the ‘top junior hockey league’ in the United States. This is probably only because it is the only USA Hockey sanctioned junior hockey league in the country. It consists of teams from the US’s midwestern states and allows players to keep their NCAA eligibility, unlike the CHL.

Saskatchewan Male U18 AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL)

The Saskatchewan Male Under 18 AAA Hockey League is an under 18 AAA hockey league based in Saskatchewan, Canada. It is the top level of minor hockey in the province. Also, the age range of players is 18 years or younger.

Tier 1 Elite Hockey League (T1EHL)

The Tier 1 Elite Hockey League (formerly Midwest Elite Hockey League) is based in the Midwest United States. It is the leading amateur youth hockey league in the US. It has various league levels ranging from Squirt Minor to Midget Major U18.

Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL)

The Greater Toronto Hockey League (formerly known as Metro Toronto Hockey League) is a AAA hockey league based in the Greater Toronto area in Ontario, Canada. It is the largest minor hockey organization in the world. It is sanctioned by Hockey Canada and the Ontario Hockey Federation.

Quebec Junior Hockey League

The Quebec Junior Hockey League is a youth hockey league based in Quebec, Canada. It is a Hockey Quebec league and is part of the Canadian Junior Hockey League and Hockey Canada. The winners of the QJHL championships go on to compete against winners of the Maritime Hockey League and the Central Junior A Hockey League for the Fred Page Cup. The Fred Page Cup champions then move on to compete for the Centennial Cup.

Alberta Midget Hockey League (AMHL)

The Alberta Midget Hockey League is a AAA Midget Hockey League based in Alberta, Canada. It consists of 18 teams located all around Alberta, and the champions of this league go on to compete against the British Columbia Major Midget Hockey League champions for the Telus Cup, Canada’s national midget league competition.

Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League

The Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League is the provincial Bantam AAA hockey league in Albert, Canada. It operates under Hockey Alberta and Hockey Canada as an AAA ice hockey league for players under 15 years of age.

What Happens After AAA?

One of the routes a youth player can take if they no longer play for a AAA team is to play collegiate hockey. Many AAA players are recruited to play for college hockey teams before they are even enrolled in a college and will often be offered a full scholarship as an incentive to play for that specific college.

Players who play for a college team will often join a hockey association, like the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), University Sports (USports), or the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA).

However, suppose players decide to go to the college hockey route. In that case, their chance of playing in the NHL or other professional leagues significantly decreases because their peak age will have passed by the time they graduate.

In some exceptional cases, AAA hockey players are drafted directly into an NHL team or into one of their affiliate teams that would play in the AHL or the ECHL. Some players who have the potential to play in the NHL may be scouted and put onto a team that plays in either the SPHL or the FHL.

If you want to know more about the career path a youth hockey player could have, watch this video:

How To Get Into Playing In These Hockey Leagues

After reading all that information about different hockey leagues, you might be wondering what it takes to get into one of them. The first thing it takes is a lot of time and dedication to the sport. You have to really love playing hockey to get that good at playing it.

You’ll also need to be part of a hockey team or a club to ensure you get proper training and experience under your belt. Most hockey leagues have tryouts that you can partake in to get a shot at being drafted into them. Some bigger leagues may even do scouting at smaller leagues for players to potentially pull into one of their league’s teams.

Also, be sure to read our article discussing the age requirements for joining a junior level team and how to make the team.


It’s quite clear that there is a lot of hard work that goes into playing for a team in a AAA hockey league, so if your child wants to play in one of these leagues, you’ll need to be able to commit the time, effort, and money it’ll take to get your kid there.

Have them start small by playing in a league in your area, and with time, they can work their way up to some of the more significant leagues. Who knows, maybe they’ll play for a pro team one day!