How To Make Junior Hockey, Even If You Don’t Play Midget AAA

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Junior Hockey Bottleneck

Is it possible for a AA Midget player to make a junior hockey team, without the advantage of playing in front of scouts like AAA players?

A question coming up on my forum and YouTube comments is “I play Midget AA. Can I still make junior hockey?”

In today’s video, I’m going to answer to tell you some alternatives so you can cheat the system.

You’ll learn what you can do if you don’t play AAA, and what other options are out there.

It’s rare for Midget AA players to make decent junior hockey teams and league. The truth for the other 99 per cent of players who’ve played junior… They played AAA hockey.

However, there are plenty of examples to the counter… Jerome Iginla wasn’t taken in the bantam draft, but he’s still scored 500 goals in the NHL. Chris Kunitz never made Major Junior, and slugged it out in the SJHL before getting his scholly. He made the Canadian Olympic team years after being signed as an undrafted free agent.

Heck, yours truly made Major Junior after not being drafted and then being dropped twice. If you’re not playing at the “right” level, you still can make it.

Midget AA Players – Here’s Your Best Option

Your first priority as a AA player is to think about how you’ll get to AAA, not junior. You want to play AAA hockey because AAA is where the scouts go. AAA is the gatekeeper. Playing on AAA team says that you are in the top class of your peers.

Think about it: a junior league pulls in players from multiple provinces or minor hockey territories. This means that, by numbers, some of the bottom guys in AAA, let alone AA, won’t be playing junior.

Junior Hockey Bottleneck

The minor hockey-thru-junior hockey system bottlenecks as players get older. Your hometown has infinite teams in novice. Then the travelling starts in atom and peewee. Then guys get serious or quit in bantam. You travel more and play in front of scouts as your grow. Then there are really elite leagues in midget. From these elite leagues you get chosen by even fewer junior leagues. Then it’s the NHL or one of a handful of NCAA conferences.

You have to keep rising as that bottle fills up with age. Do it or drown.

“But Nick, what if I am a top line scorer in AA? Can you develop more there by playing more?” – Player

Here’s the thing: nobody is looking in AA.

I like to use this metaphor: imagine two guys are running lemonade stands, a AA stand and a AAA stand. Both make the same lemonade. The AAA guy got a permit to set up downtown between a shopping mall and a construction site. The AA guy, although squeezing the same lemons, didn’t. He’s stuck in an alley behind the mall. Who will do better?

Obviously the AAA stand. There is just more traffic. With more traffic, the guy learns to make better lemonade, sell better, etc. One day, when he moves into the mall, he’ll have more skills to go against the big boys. Even if somebody sees talent in the AA guy, they may wonder how good he really is if he is selling in the alley.

That’s kind of an odd comparison, but it illustrates the point—if you’re the best and nobody sees you, it’s harder to get your shot. (Keep reading and I’ll tell you what to do when life gives you lemons like this…)

lemons picture

Know this is typical: scouts head to AAA. If a scout can be sure on a so-so AAA player—where the hockey is better—he’ll take him over a good AA player. That’s just the facts.

The argument of ice time for development on a lower level team only comes into play if the player was 17 and going to play very little in Junior when he could be a first line in AAA, or if he’s going to jump from the junior/the AHL to the NHL. This is because it’s a 17 year-old boys versus grown men argument. Not 17 year-old versus 17 year-old as is the case with AA vs. AAA.

If you play AA to develop skills, you’re pushing yourself to be the best of the guys who won’t be playing junior the next year. If your ultimate goal is to make to junior then you should play AAA, even if you don’t think you will play a ton. If it hurts you to sit on the bench, play AA and have more fun. Know what you want out of hockey! (A future video, btw.)

“Yes, but how will he develop if he doesn’t play?!” – Parent

Here’s the thing again: most junior teams guarantee the majority of their open spots before fall camp. That’s how they prevent their top recruits from signing with another team. You also have to take into account that they’ll be scouting players for a whole year-and-a-half before they sign.

If your son is playing AA as a 17 year-old and he does get a camp invite, he’s going against guys who have already signed cards. He won’t know who they are, but they will have signed already! Even the average AAA player will be facing an uphill battle if he isn’t signed.

If your son plays AAA, he’ll be familiar with the junior teams already. They’ll know who he is and watch him develop in AAA and know who he is coming into camp. He’ll be just another guy filling a spot if he comes from AA. He will have to have the performance of his life to make the team. It’s tough odds, but odds can be beat.

I devote a whole chapter to these questions in my book, so I’ll leave it at that. However, know that there is way, way more to the recruiting process than just having a good weekend tryout in late August after midget ends.

“But AAA costs money, and we’re far away! How can I get scouts to come watch?” – Player & Parent

They won’t come to you. Plain and simple. You have to put yourself in front of them. They are going to go where they can watch the most talent, and that is at AAA games.

Hockey is tough. You can’t just show up with a stick and puck and play at your local high school and fumble into college. We’re the only sport not set up like that. It’s expensive and there is a lot of travel involved. That’s life and it’s not going to change.

As a kid, I played with guys who got their summer employers to help sponsor them, and they fundraised like crazy. I gave one player the idea that he collect donations and keep an email list to update the sponsors how his season is going, sending them pictures, etc that they could use on their websites.

What I’m getting at is that if there is a will, there’s a way. Even if it seems extreme. To get goalie coaching in junior, I worked for my goalie coach. For every eight hours I taught his students I got an hour of coaching, so I happily paid the price. I drove 10 hours to get this deal. He changed my career. Sacrifices can be turned into opportunities for those who want to make it.

(A big part of my book for young men coming out in bookstores this fall is taking responsibility for your fate.)

“Can I make Junior A from Junior B or Tier III?” – Player

Junior B, aka “the jungle,” is interesting. I’ve definitely seen some guys play Junior B and jump to Junior A (or Major Junior) and develop faster because they were forced to play against older, stronger players. (Kind of like playing against better players in AAA.)

However, Junior B can be a wasteland in some provinces. Here is where Junior B/tier III is good hockey:

  • B.C.
  • Certain parts of Ontario
  • Some tier III junior in the States

B.C has three solid Junior B leagues: VIJHL, PJHL, KIJHL. Before AAA came along, this was the elite hockey for a 16/17 year-old. Some guys even started playing it in bantam. Sometimes WHL prospects are sent here too. I know about these leagues because I played with many players who used them as a stepping stone. It’s an alternative route to the territorial AAA system in B.C. However, if you’re still playing Junior B when junior-age you’ve fallen behind.


Ontario has some killer Junior B. In fact, the GOJHL is applying to become Junior A and gets a couple scholarships. It’s not uncommon for OHL picks play in this league. The EOJHL is another decent one guys could try. There are also the “rebel” or “outlaw” leagues (but they don’t like be called that). The one that comes to mind is the GMHL. They get some div III schollies.

On the Prairies, some guys make the jump to Junior A from Junior B, but it’s not the norm. Usually, it’s for, you guessed it, Midget AA players.

The Junior B presence exists in the Maritimes too. It is predominantly local guys.

Tier III in the States is sort-of, kind-of like Junior B in Canada. If you don’t want to do a prep school or there isn’t AAA near you, tier III could be a jumping point to a higher level.

It’s kind of unfair to lump all tier III as Junior B. Some tier III leagues have players ranked by NHL Central Scouting, some get div I schollies, and that is a lot more than can be said for most Junior B as Canadians know it.

On the other hand, tier III is pay-to-play hockey, and some of these leagues can’t find enough players during the season. It’s still developing. There is definitely an talent inefficiency in the tier III market that could present an opportunity for a Midget AA player.

There are tons of tier III teams in the States, so do your research. It won’t be the USHL or NAHL, but if you’re still midget age it could be your ticket to moving up higher.

“Nick, I tried to make AAA but didn’t. I still want to play junior. What now?” – Player

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?

Actually, you squirt them in the eye with them by showing them they were wrong!

Fortunately, even if you didn’t make AAA, many Junior A spring camps are relatively easy to attend. I recommend that you contact teams and let them know you’re interested.

I outline the steps for this entirely, down to what exactly to say so they listen to your call and invite you to tryout, in my Training Camp Invite Formula. I’m going to reopen it again later this year. Sign up for my newsletter to be the first to know.

by Nick Olynyk (47 Posts)

Nick Olynyk is a junior hockey expert and author of the Junior Hockey Truth, a book series for parents of bantam and midget hockey players approaching junior hockey. To check out his book for bantam and midget hockey parents, go to: www.juniorhockeybook.com

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