Tier III Hockey (pay to play leagues) in the US is offered all over the USA. There are 7 leagues with a total of 171 teams (number at the beginning of the season). Before you send the first check to a team you better make sure you did your homework about the league and the team you will be playing for. Not all leagues and teams are the same!
With the addition of the NCDC, another Tier II League (no tuition), the number of Tier III teams increased by almost 28 % this season compared to ’16/’17. Why? USA Hockey did not approve USPHL’s no tuition league and as a consequence the USPHL left USA Hockey. They now operate their leagues (NCDC, USPHL Premier, Elite) as an independent organization.
In essence, the old USPHL Premiere became the NCDC with the addition of some EHL teams, and the old Elite became the new USPHL Premier to which they added the old/new Elite. This gives them a ladder organization, like the NAHL, where players can move up to higher leagues within the same umbrella league.
So far so good. However, the Tier III market was already saturated (too many teams, not enough players) last season. The addition of another 37 teams just aggravated the situation with a significant number of teams struggling to operate with a full roster of 23 players. This had some dire consequences for some hockey families. Over the last few weeks more than five Tier III teams have already folded, leaving parents/players looking for new teams and hoping to recoup at least some of the money paid!
How is this possible? Very simple. The leagues trying to expand their footprint to gain market share and, of course, ultimately increase their revenue. While the market (number of players) is basically flat they increased the offerings (adding teams). In the process the franchisors (leagues) did not vet the new franchisees (team owners) properly and some shady characters and/or owners with limited resources or know-how (how to run a junior team) became the proud owners of a Tier III Hockey Team!
Tier III is a valuable option for lots of aspiring hockey players who may need some additional time in their development. This is specifically true for Imports who want to pursue their careers in North America. There are lots of very good teams, in the top Tier III leagues, who put the developmental aspect of the players on top of their priority list. It is important to check out the teams/leagues to make sure it is the right fit for a player and do some background checks on the organization and its staff. This becomes even more important for European families who may not be too familiar with the US Junior Hockey and need some guidance. Money spent in the evaluation process is money well spent to secure that the Tier III experience is a positive one!
Here is some more information about USA Junior Ice Hockey vs. Swiss Ice Hockey.