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Amateur Hockey Tier Classification Explanation

The classifications of amateur hockey in Illinois can be confusing, so here is a quick overview.  In Illinois there are three tiers of hockey organized by skill/competition level:

Tier 1 (often referred to as 'triple A')

This tier is the highest competition level and requires a significant time and extensive travel commitment.  Players are required to try out.  Playing time is not balanced.  All of the coaches at this level are paid professionals.  Many of the players at this level advance to compete at the college or junior level, and a few go on to professional careers.  Tier 1 players can spend 6-7 days on the ice each week.  This tier is most expensive with costs that can approach tens of thousands of dollars.

There are four sanctioned Tier 1 clubs in Illinois: Chicago Young Americans (CYA), Fury, Mission, and Team Illinois (TI).

Tier 2 (often referred to as ‘double A’ or ‘NIHL’ (pronounced nyhill) or ‘central states’)

This tier offers a lower level of competition than tier 1 and requires a lesser time and travel commitment.  Players are required to try out.  Playing time at this level may not be balanced.  Most of the coaches at this level are paid.  Some of the players at this level advance to compete at the college or junior level.  Tier 2 players can expect to be on the ice 4-6 days each week. Costs at Tier 2 can approach several thousands of dollars.

In Illinois there are two Tier 2 leagues: Northern Illinois Hockey League (NIHL) and Central States Development Hockey League, the difference being Central States cost, time, and travel commitments are higher than NIHL.  All teams competing in these two leagues are considered Tier 2.  There are twenty-three sanctioned Tier 2 organizations in Illinois.

Tier 3 (often referred to as ‘house’ or ‘house travel’ or single ‘A’)

This tier provides recreational hockey for players at all skill levels.  There are no tryouts or cuts.  Rosters spots are only limited to space available, so players are welcomed, regardless of skill level, on a first come first served basis.  All players are evaluated in order to equally balance the skill at those age levels with multiple teams.  Playing time is balanced, that is to say, players receive an equal amount of ice time.  Some travel is required and typically the coaches are volunteer parents.  This is also the least expensive level.

The Chiefs are a tier 3 organization playing in the Northwest Hockey League (NWHL). The Chiefs usually have two practices during the week and one game on the weekend; however, the schedule varies and does not always follow this structure.  The season runs from September to March.