Ask the Coach: At what age should you tryout for Women’s Junior hockey?

I received a question today from a prospective player who was thinking about attending RSL Islanders tryouts but was unsure of the age category. In the last few days, I’ve gotten a few variations on “what age is allowable or appropriate to consider playing at the Junior/Intermediate level”, so here’s my response to these line of questions. Hope it helps – short answer is “Yes, you should attend 🙂 “.

In OWHA Girls Hockey, age categories (PeeWee, Bantam, Midget, etc.) are lower age-category limiting only. For example, a player who is 14 years-old is, by age category, defined as a Bantam (13/14 year-olds). As such, she is restricted to play no younger than the Bantam level; she can’t play on a PeeWee team, for example, as PeeWee’s are ages 11-12.

However, there is no restriction on a 14-year-old Bantam playing at the Midget level (ages 15, 16 and 17) or even higher at the Junior/Intermediate level. So, from an age-rule perspective, a player can “play up” but not down. In fact, many associations (including the OWHA) now define the age categories with the top age only; PeeWee is 12 and under, Bantam is 14 and under, Midget is 17 and under, etc.

I think most players and parents know they can “play up” and have likely seen players who are younger then the defined age-category doing so or have been one of those players themselves either as an “under-age” roster player or as an affiliate/call-up.

With that covered, thinking about trying out for Junior/Intermediate usually leads to two questions:
What is the age category for Junior/Intermediate? and
When should a player consider playing at that level?

Women’s Junior or Intermediate (they essentially mean the same thing, one is more a marketing term and the other is an official OWHA age category) is a 21-and-under age category. For the upcoming 2019/20 season, this means birth years of 1999 or younger are eligible. However, some teams may not carry players in the upper ages if they are trying to maintain a U19 designation, so older players should check with their prospective teams. Note that the RSL Islanders are a 21 and under team.

Most Junior/Intermediate teams have rosters made up with a majority of players in the 16-18-year-old age group; the last couple of years of Midget or grade 11 and 12 players, with a few players who are doing gap years (18-19-year-olds) and a few younger players. Given this reality, some people think of Junior/Intermediate as a proxy for Midget AAA – which doesn’t exist as a category in OWHA hockey.

Knowing this roster make-up of the typical Junior/Intermediate team, the decision of when to play at this level comes down to:
Is the player physically and mentally capable? and
Is the player and family ready for the level of commitment?

Tryouts are a big component of determining the physical and mental potential of a player and I’d encourage any Tier 1 Midget player to attend a Junior/Intermediate tryout; you’ll, at the least, see what the gap is to making it at the next level, and if the tryouts are well structured you’ll be given feedback on the areas you need to improve on and how to get there.

Given most Junior/Intermediate rosters have a few first-year-aged Midget players (i.e.: they have just finished playing at the Bantam level), it is absolutely worth your while to attend a Junior/Intermediate tryout if you’ve just finished playing Bantam, for exactly the same reasons I just mentioned; you need to know how close you are and use your upcoming year(s) of Midget to develop and close that gap. And, frankly, you may even be able to crack the line-up and playing at the highest level you can attain is generally the best way for you to get better and find out just how good you can be.

Which brings us to the last point – player and family commitment. And it is no small consideration.

Playing at the Junior/Intermediate level requires a very high level of commitment and investment of time and money. Short of playing at the Collegiate/University or Pro level, this is the pinnacle of Women’s hockey. You will be playing against players that will be on country rosters for IIHF world championships; that are striving to be recruited by College/University Programs; that have decided this is their passion and they are fully committed to it.

It is incredibly inspiring and rewarding to play at this level, but it does require an uncommon level of focus and dedication and support from your family. If this is your passion, I urge you to pursue it. Unfortunately, this opportunity is time-limited; the door remains open for just a few short years – so if this is something you want, dig in, make a plan and get after it, now. The rewards and memories will last a lifetime.

“Failure is never quite as frightening as regret”.

If this has been useful or you have other questions, you can reach Coach Pete at coach@rslislanders.ca