What Is the Difference Between AA and AAA Hockey?

What Is the Difference Between AA and AAA Hockey?

AA and AAA Hockey

When you play on a hockey team, you are likely to be classified based on your age and the skill level you play at. The highest skill levels include AAA and AA, but what really is the difference between them?

The difference between AA and AAA hockey is the skill level of the players. While it is possible to play on both teams, and players in either class are highly skilled, AAA hockey is the most competitive and most likely to send players to Division 1 college hockey or to the NHL.

Ultimately, the goal for many hockey players is to make it to the highest level. If you want to learn more about the real difference between AA and AAA hockey and how the breakdown of the different levels and tiers of hockey works, keep reading the article below.

AA Hockey: A Basic Overview

AA Hockey is classified as “AA” based on the player’s skill levels and is considered a level below “AAA”. However, it is the second-highest level, and players who play AA hockey can still be outstanding at the sport and have a chance to play Division 1 college hockey if they are playing at the junior level. However, you may hear AA hockey at the junior level be called “Tier 2” hockey and not always “AA Hockey”.

While AA describes the player’s skill level, it can be a little confusing as it is then broken down based on the level of hockey and the age of the player, meaning there are multiple AA skill level teams separated by the level of hockey.

For example, if the player is only nine years old and is considered a “squirt”, they can play at the AA level or play at the AAA or B or C level. For more information on this, see the section about the levels of hockey below.

Tier 2: AA Hockey Team Requirements

For players playing in Tier 2, or sometimes called AA hockey, the requirements to be on the team include:

  • The teams are formed based on tryouts.
  • Teams are limited to people who live within the district (maximum of 3 people from beyond the district, except in Midget levels where the maximum is six people).
  • Players 9 or older can only play 75 games per season.
  • Players 8 or younger can only play 40 games per season.

These players may play for free but must pay for billet fees and any other expenses such as living fees.

AAA Hockey: A Basic Overview

AAA Hockey is the highest level of hockey that can be played at any age level. You will hear Tier 1 Junior Hockey being referred to as “AAA” hockey in some cases. In this case, this is the highest you can play before going to the NCAA or, in some cases, if the player is outstanding, the NHL.

However, similar to AA, AAA also refers to the player’s skill level, which AAA is the highest skill level within each level or age group of hockey, making it a level up from AA hockey.

For example, a player who is 16 playing at the Midget Minor level would play AAA if they have the skill to play at the highest competition level.

The player must have the skill to go from being an A player to AA or AA to AAA, and the player must pass the tryouts. For levels lower such as B or C, usually, no tryouts are held. In some cases, it all comes down to which skill the players have. If a AAA team already has enough players who can score, they are likely to look for other players’ skills even if the AA player is a fantastic scorer.

If you’re looking to join a team, make sure to read our article covering the USA’s best youth hockey programs.

Tier 1: AAA Hockey Team Requirements

For players playing in Tier 1, or sometimes called AAA hockey, the most competitive level, the requirements to be on the team include:

  • The teams are formed based on tryouts.
  • Teams can be formed by people anywhere within the state or outside of it.
  • Players 9 and older can only play 75 games per season.

Be sure to take a read through our article looking into AAA hockey and if it is worth playing for these elite teams.

The Tiers and Levels of Hockey

Within the United States, the tiers and levels of hockey are varied based on the age of the player and the skill level. Below, we have outlined the tiers of hockey and the different levels in an attempt to clarify this for both youth and junior players.

The Levels of Hockey

The different levels of hockey are first separated by the player’s age and then by the player’s skill level. However, each level is designated to both the ages and the varying skill levels. See the table below from WikiMili for a visual representation.

We also have an article that goes into much more detail on the age AAA hockey starts for youth players.

Level Age Skill Levels
Mite 8 & Under Red, White & Blue played as cross-ice games
Squirt 9-10 AAA, AA, A, B, C
Peewee 11-12 AAA, AA, A, B, C
Bantam 13-14 AAA, AA, A, B, C
Midget Minor 15U 15 AAA
Midget Minor 16U 15-16 AAA, AA, Junior Varsity High-School A
Midget Major 18U 15-18 AAA, AA, Varsity High School AA and AAA
Junior 16-20 Age and level vary depending on the tier (break down below).

Note: Girls’ hockey has its own age classification system consisting of 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U, and 19U separated by age.

The Tiers of Hockey

There are three different tiers of junior **hockey, and they are separated based on the skill levels of the players.

Tier 1, the USHL (United States Hockey League), is the highest level. In this tier, players are between 15 and 20 years of age, and it is at this time where players then have the ability to get NCAA eligibility and play for a Division 1 team in college. Tier 1, with the highest competition, may also be classified as “AAA”, similar to the highest level in the Canadian system.

The tier below is Tier 2, which consists of the NAHL (North American Hockey League). However, this league tends to consider itself an alternative to the USHL, despite being a tier below. Nonetheless, playing at this level is also a path that players take if their goal is to play on a Division 1 College team. Tier 2 may also be considered as “AA” or “A”.

The third tier, Tier 3, is below that one, but this does not mean playing in this tier is worse. The main difference is that these players have to pay to play, and the teams are coast-to-coast.

Within Tier 3, players are separated based on age so that you won’t see 15 and 20-year-olds on the same team. In some sense, it is the extension of youth hockey. You should also note that technically, players 18 and under playing in Tier 3 are considered on a Tier 1 youth team.

Tier 3 can also be referred to as “A”, which is the lowest competitive hockey level. There is recreational or developmental hockey below this level, which includes house league and select teams, sometimes called “B” or “C”, level hockey.

Final Thoughts

While there isn’t a large difference between how AA and AAA hockey works, and in many cases, you may even find AA and AAA hockey teams playing against each other in lower levels. There is a slight difference once the player makes it to the junior level.

At the junior level, Tier 1 or AAA players are considered to be at the highest level, play for free, and have a high chance of playing for the NCAA. Nonetheless, AA players or junior players at tier 2 still have a chance of making it.