I make no secret of the fact that hockey isn’t something I grew up with. I couldn’t have separated hockey by age group if you paid me. Farm life doesn’t allow for a lot of spare time and even if we had the time, my brother is only moderately more athletic than yours truly.
So when Boy #1 came home from school talking about hockey and how his friends were playing, I figured I better getting working on figuring some things out.
A basic Google search told me that I could register both Boy #1 and Boy #2 (who at that point wanted to do everything his older brother did) in Initiation level hockey.
Excellent. They’d be on the same team which meant 2-for-1 time commitment. Up until then, the best kind of sports were the ones where I could put both kids in at the same time.
Except that’s not how it worked out. Turns out, I had more to learn than I originally thought.
In this Hockey 101 lesson, we’re tackling hockey by age group.
Ages 4 to 6
By far the highlight of my hockey season for Initiation is watching the 4 year olds’ first hockey “practice”. Picture 20 or so kids starfishing it up on the ice. The coaches, bless their ever patient souls, spend the entire first practice getting the wee ones up on their skates and showing them how to pick themselves up off the ice.
There are no games in Initiation level. For our league, Initiation kids get two one hour practices most weeks for a total of 20 hours of ice time each season. The focus is on skill building and fun. This is great for the kids. The difference between Day 1 and the end of the season is remarkable. They are all skating around, they are starting to stick handle. Amazing.
Because of the age difference, “teams” are often separated by age. So all the four year olds are together and all the six year olds are together. In the last year of Initiation, the concept of hockey as a game is introduced and kids start learning the fundamental components of the game.
I’ve had one kid or another in Initiation for the last three years and I have another two years to go. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a long haul but this stage really establishes the foundation for future years.
Ages 7 & 8
This is where things start to get competitive. The three years of Initiation is now applied to both practices and games. The season starts with Evaluations. Coaches run the kids in the novice age group through several skill drills while the convenors observe each player. Based on the observed skills, kids are placed in A, B or C level Novice.
With this level, the cost goes up, both in registration fees as well as team fees. The options for fundraising are more varied as well. As an idea, for our league, each novice team gets 16 hours of practice time and 20 regular season games which are 50 minutes each. Some teams can choose to purchase more ice time, if it’s available and there is money available in the budget.
For Boy #1, he was able to decide that he wanted to play defense at this point. It depends on the coach, and most prefer to give kids a chance to try out all the positions. I agree with this approach because why peg them in one position before they really begin to understand the game? That said, some kids just know. Boy #1 just knew.
Finally Novice is where the team aspect of hockey comes in. There is a real focus on working as a team to get those goals and make those plays.
Ages 9 & 10
Here’s where I start venturing into uncharted territory. Boy #1 heads into Atom this year and from what I’ve seen from hockey camp, things are getting more physical. Given the ages, things are getting more competitive too. Great. My boy is tall but he’s skinny. We upgraded some of his protective gear at the end of last season to give him more padding.
Atom is where the finer points of hockey start to develop. Things like team play and strategy are introduced and developed starting at this level. Stick handling becomes more important, as does puck control.
The game gets faster, the kids move more. Here’s where fueling your athlete becomes important. Not that it isn’t important before, but you really start to see the difference between the different kinds of fuel. Focus on the healthy choices, rather than good vs bad food because #balance.
Ages 11 & 12
Prior to writing this, Peewee level made me nervous. Why? Because at one time, Peewee was where body checking entered the game. In doing my research, I discovered that Hockey Canada had banned checking in 2013 for the Peewee level. Phew. In fact, Hockey Edmonton further banned checking in house league hockey altogether as of April 2016.
With checking out of the way, kids are able to focus on developing their technical skills at this level and build on the strategy introduced in Atom level hockey. Individual skills are still important, but the shift to strategy continues at this level.
Additionally, at this point, kids have decided whether they enjoy the sport, or not. Because of this, things get a little more serious for the players and there is a risk of it no longer being fun. Again whether this effects your player depends on their personality. Team sports are not for everyone and you know your player best, so you’ll know whether to push or let go.
Ages 13 & 14
This is where HockeyDad’s hockey career ended. According to his dad, he could have cared less about the sport at this point. I believe it, competitive isn’t really a word I use to describe my husband. The emphasis shifts again, more to team play and strategy.
It’s a logical progression, if you think about it. The skills needed for hockey have been established at this point. Yes, you can get stronger, faster and more skilled so there is still a majority of time spent developing the individual player. But games are now won or lost on how the team works together. So you want to work on that aspect a good chunk of the time as well.
As a side note, I’m a little worried that all three will still want to play beyond this level. That’s a lot of hockey, people.
Ages 15, 16 & 17
The good news here is that at 16 and 17 they’ll be able to drive themselves to the rink. Of course at this point, I would imagine the habit is so ingrained, I won’t know what to do with myself if I’m not at the rink. We all know it’s going to happen.
Of all the levels of hockey, this one spends the least amount of time on technical skills. There is more balance in all areas of hockey, team tactics, individual tactics and strategy. There is no emphasis on one area over another.
Because of this, there are more regular season hockey games, and only ten hours of practice time in our hockey league. A player learns a lot from playing the game and it lends itself well to thinking on your feet as a player and developing those reflexes.
And there you have it. The house league hockey by age group. All of them. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a warm drink just thinking about all that time in an arena.
See you at the rink.