Unlike Junior Hockey, where there are multiple different leagues and varying levels of play, Youth Hockey in North America is relatively straightforward. Youth Hockey, generally referred to as association hockey, is organized by age. In Canada, Youth Hockey is referred to as Minor Hockey.
While USA Hockey changed how they identify levels of youth hockey after 2016, most associations refer to their youth hockey programs by pre-2016 nomenclature.
Prior to 2016, when USA Hockey classified Youth Hockey by naming age divisions, there were only a couple differences between youth hockey in the United States and in Canada.
Differences in levels of youth hockey between the USA and Canada.
- Ages 6-9 in Canada is referred to as Hockey 1-4
- USA Hockey has Mini Mites, Mites, and Squirts (Squirts go until Age 10)
- In Canada, Age 9-10 is referred to as Atom
- From Ages 11-12 and on, Youth Hockey and Minor Hockey follow the same nomenclature between the USA and Canada
- 11-12: PeeWees
- 13-14: Bantams
- 15+: Midget (we break this down further, below)
Alright, confusing enough? It’s really not. Let’s break down the levels of youth hockey in both the USA and Canada.
Levels of Youth Hockey in USA
Since 2016, USA Hockey has re-named it’s groups of Youth Hockey by age levels. This means, instead of kids playing Mites, Squirts, PeeWees, Bantams, and so on, they now get classed by age range. This actually makes things quite a bit easier. USA Hockey follows the ADM, or American Development Model, designed to develop youth players at scale.
Before 2016, these were the levels of youth hockey in the USA.
- Mini Mite (ages 5-6)
- Mite (ages 7-8)
- Squirt (ages 9-10)
- Peewee (ages 11-12)
- Bantam (ages 13-14)
- Minor Midget 16 and Under (ages 15-16)
- Major Midget 18 and Under (ages 15-18)
Of course, for states that have High School hockey programs, the youth hockey system would end at the Bantam level. Typically, players who play for High School teams, not youth hockey associations, will start playing High School at the 10th grade age, or 15+ years old.
Mini Mite Hockey (Ages 5-6)
Mini Mite hockey is from the ages of 5 to 6. When USA Hockey released their new nomenclature for Youth Hockey in 2016, Mini Mite hockey was grouped into 8U’s age range.
Mite Hockey (Ages 7-8) or 8U
Mite hockey in the USA is from the ages of 7 to 8. It’s also known as 8U.
Squirt Hockey (Ages 9-10) or 10U
Squirt hockey in the USA is from ages 9 to 10. Squirts in the USA are also referred to as 10U.
PeeWee Hockey (Ages 11-12) or 12U
Pee Wee Hockey in the USA is from ages 11 to 12. 12U is also known as Pee Wee hockey, or “Pee Wees”. Believe it or not, in hockey crazed states like Minnesota, players who will turn into top High School players are already starting to garner attention at this age.
Bantam Hockey (Ages 13-14) or 14U
Bantam Hockey in the USA is from ages 13 to 14. 14U is also known as Bantam hockey, or “Bantams”. Goalies are scouted heavily at the Bantam level. In places like Minnesota, again, where they have the opportunity to play in a High School tournament that draws tens of thousands of fans, they’re more likely to stick around. In other areas, many of the top Bantam players are already playing on the AAA circuit.
Minor Midget Hockey (Ages 15-16) or 16U
Minor Midget hockey is from the ages of 15 to 16 in the USA. It’s also known as 16U.
Major Midget Hockey (Ages 15-18) or 18U
Major Midget hockey in the USA is from the ages of 15 to 18. Players can choose to play Minor or Major Midgets. It’s also known as 18U.
From 2016 to Present, these are the levels of Youth Hockey in the USA.
While USA Hockey now refers to their age brackets with a number, which actually makes more sense and is easier for the unsuspecting fan to understand, nearly everyone still uses old terminology such as “Bantams”.
- Age Category: 8 – Age Division: 8 or Under (8U)
- Age Category: 9-10 – Age Division: 10 or Under (10U)
- Age Category: 11-12 – Age Division: 12 or Under (12U)
- Age Category: 13-14 – Age Division: 14 or Under (14U)
- Age Category: 15-16 – Age Division: 16 & Under (16U)
- Age Category: 17-18 – Age Division: 18 & Under (18U)
8U, Age 8 and Under
8U was previously known as “Mites” and is still commonly referred to as such.
10U, Age 10 and Under
12U, Age 12 and Under
14U, Age 14 and Under
16U, Age 16 and Under
18U, Age 18 and Under
While USA Hockey may refer to it’s age divisions using numbers, most organizations continue to refer to their levels of youth hockey using pre-2016 terminology, like “Bantams”.
Levels of Minor Hockey in Canada
In Canada, youth hockey is referred to as “Minor Hockey”. In Canada, players can opt to play for a Major Junior team in a league such as the OHL (Major Junior Leagues include the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL) from the ages of 16-20. Players are also eligible to play Junior A or Junior B hockey, not considered Minor Hockey, but rather Junior Hockey in Canada.
In both the USA and Canada, elite youth hockey players often go on to play Junior Hockey after their association hockey days are over.
These are the levels of Minor Hockey in Canada.
- Hockey 1 to 4: Age 6-9
- Atom: Age 9-10
- Pee Wee: Age 11-12
- Bantam: Age 13-14
- Midget: Age 15-17
- Juvenile: Age 18-19