Outside of the Southeast, large youth hockey associations across the country form their teams by birth year instead of mixed-birth year. While it makes it easier to better align with the youth hockey world outside of our area to go with birth year teams, there are also tremendous benefits for the development of our players. Our athletes are able to play with and against their peers in age-appropriate training environments, have opportunities for advancement within the association, and receive valuable preparation for the next season.

USA Hockey offers two tiers of youth competition, Tier 1 and Tier 2, each with their own set of rules and their own National Championships.

Tier 1, or "AAA" in the Carolinas, generally requires significant travel and increased expense as there are more practices, more events, and fewer teams to play against as USA Hockey affiliates must approve teams for Tier 1 status based on an established set of criteria to protect the integrity of competition. 

Tier 2 is the largest tier of competition, spanning across several different levels of play from AA (the highest) to Travel B and House hockey. 

Our goal for both Tier 1 and Tier 2 is to consistently field top 30 teams who compete for national championships and present opportunities for our athletes to advance to the higher levels of hockey.  

Tier 1 AAA is considered to be the highest level of competition in youth hockey. Among top-50 AAA teams/associations, this is unquestionably true. 

In reality, AAA hockey outside of the top 50 begins to blend in with top 30 Tier 2 AA hockey. Additionally, some affiliates allow Tier 2 teams to classify themselves as "AAA", so it's important to understand the level of AAA hockey that's being referred to. 

USA Hockey does not have any criteria or guidelines to define the difference between "AA" and "A" Tier 2 hockey. Traditionally, AA teams play at a higher level than A teams, but there is nothing preventing A level teams from classifying themselves as a AA team. 

We choose to classify our teams by color to differentiate between the order in which teams are selected. Black teams are our top Tier 2 teams, Red teams are next, and White teams are selected after that. 

In many cases, our Black and Red teams both compete at the AA level. 

While the high cost of ice (over 55% of dues payments go to ice rentals alone) and the disconnect between demand and supply in our area, expense and availability certainly play a role in the decision to share ice for some team practices from 12U and younger. 

The larger reason for sharing ice ... it creates a better environment for the development and advancement of our younger players. Small-area games make up the majority of the components of any youth practice plan, which means that 50% to 75% of the ice isn't being utilized for 50% of practices. This accelerates growth in decision-making, isolates critical skating skills like stops-and-starts, quick pivots and tight turns, and increases puck control skills in game-like situations. 

Shared ice does not mean half ice. Some associations advertise full-ice practices for 10U and 12U teams, which means multiple teams work on the same full sheet of ice simultaneously. Our shared-ice teams are scheduled strategically to allow ice partners the opportunity to go through full-ice skating drills as well as full-ice breakouts, rush drills, forechecking drills, etc. to work on systems of play on a full sheet together. At these age groups, for the sake of player development and preparation for older age groups, shared ice practices are preferred to best utilize ice and structure practices appropriately. 

It depends.

For Tier 1 AAA, there is a larger amount of travel as there is not an appropriate level of competition in our area. 

Our 11U and 12U AAA teams may play against some top ranked East Coast AA teams, but the closest comparable AAA competition is typically in Nashville and Maryland.

13U through 16U AAA (co-ed) and 14U through 19U (girls) teams travel nationally to the country's top showcase events. 

For Tier 2, travel ramps us as teams advance through age groups. 

Our 13U+ Black teams also attend top showcase events across the country, and our 13U+ Red teams can typically expect between 1 and 2 fly-to tournaments each season. 

9U through 12U Tier 2 teams typically play a more regionally-based schedule with participation in the CHL, a travel league based out of the Carolinas and Virginia. 

Teams decide on tournament locations independently, so tournament travel is completely up to each team.


The Junior Canes encourage our athletes to play other sports. Studies have proven that participation in multiple sports helps with injury prevention, balance, footwork, overall athleticism, and in many cases, decision-making on the ice. 

The time commitment required for our older Tier 1 AAA athletes typically restricts them from participating in school sports or otherwise, but many of our Tier 2 athletes participate in school sports. 

If there are scheduling conflicts, our coaches are available to figure out a plan together with your family.