AAA Or Tier 3 – The Choice Is Easy If You Have The Facts

This is the last story I wrote while spending 33 hours traveling home to Michigan via Krakow to Berlin to Amsterdam to Detroit to Traverse City.  Its a long time to have idle hands and a very active mind due to sleep deprivation.

Many are asking why I am coming out so strongly for AAA hockey.  The answer is a simple yet long winded one.  The simple answer is that AAA hockey is where real prospects play.

Its not that Tier 3 is bad.  It is that Tier 3 was never intended to replace AAA, be a place for players who cant make AAA teams, or be anything more than a place where 18 year old and up players would have an avenue to keep playing and developing.

I urgently suggest every parent of a player weighing this choice look at the USHL, NAHL, and NCDC draft results.  Better than 95% of drafted players come from AAA teams or their equivalent in Prep or High School.

In AAA hockey there are 20 player rosters.  In Tier 3 there are 25 player rosters.  Meaning Tier 3 has 5 players per game sitting in the stands if they have a full roster.  AAA teams have zero players in the stands.

Every study in the world tells us that playing time and “puck touches” are key to development.  Do you think the 5 Tier 3 players in the stands each night are developing and touching pucks?  Do you think its the 20 year old veteran player sitting in the stands or the 16 year old?

Scouting tells you that as a 16 or 17 year old, you are much more likely to achieve higher levels of play by playing AAA.  More NCAA commitments and 95% of draft picks in the top junior leagues are all the proof you need.

Tier 3 hockey is meant for 18 to 20 year old players who need more development.  Players who are lacking a certain skill, physical attribute or mental toughness.  Even my own clients know that when I send them to Tier 3 there is a very specific reason for it happening.

There is nothing wrong with Tier 3 when it is used for the right reasons.  In fact, if it were being used correctly, many more players would move from Tier 3 to higher levels because the product would be much more defined.  Tier 3 in its current state is so utterly watered down, that many scouts wont think about watching it.

Why is Tier 3 watered down?  Simple.  Over expansion.  Greed.

Another reason Tier 3 is watered down is because parents and players think Tier 3 is a shortcut or accelerated path to Tier II or Tier I.  The facts do not support that thought process.  The facts completely contradict that thought process.  There is no proof to support that idea at all.

Another reason Tier 3 is watered down is parents and players refuse to be honest with themselves.  Many times these are players cut from AAA teams.  They blame the AAA team coach because he doesn’t know what he is doing or because of politics.

Does that happen?  Sure.  But rarely.  Most times, the player simply isn’t good enough, or another AAA team would have signed him.  But that is a truth that many parents don’t want their child to face.  It is an act of protection by the parent that is hurting the game.

The real problem here is that the “rules” allow this development travesty to take place.  The “rules” made by the people in power who profit from hockey, are not being changed to address an obvious epidemic.

Some parents will argue that their son is “good enough”.  Some Tier 3 Coaches will say you should play against “bigger, stronger, older” players to “get better”.  The parents saying that to themselves to justify terrible decision making, wont listen to facts.  The Tier 3 Coaches making their sales pitch are just doing their job.

Ask any coach who played in the NHL or NCAA D-I if they played Tier 3 or AAA.  Ask them if they had a chance to play AAA or Tier 3 in their own career, what would they choose?

In my company we have a very simple phrase we use when talking to 16 or 17 year old players who are trying to decide between AAA or Tier 3.  Feel free to use this for yourself;

When you have an opportunity to play AAA and you chose Tier 3 over that AAA opportunity, you make a choice to become a project over a prospect.

Tier 3 is there to fix players who are missing something.  Its designed to be just that, a place to continue to develop for players who have run out of AAA opportunity to play.

AAA is where prospects play.  Period.  Every top league in the world proves it to us with every draft.

If you are serious about playing at a high level.  Be a prospect for as long as you can.

Joseph Kolodziej – Adviser