With tryouts for the travel teams on the horizon for next season’s squirt, peewee, and bantam programs there are a lot of questions.
Why do you do a tryout now, at the end of the season, instead of next fall closer to the season?
MeAHA, the governing body for youth hockey in Maine mandates that open tryouts for travel teams occur in the spring just after the current season ends. Tryouts must happen between the first Monday in March and mid-April. A Maine youth hockey association that wants to enter a team in a travel league must schedule an open tryout during this window and must declare any travel teams for the following season at the annual MeAHA meeting in May of each year.
What happens if we declare a team, but then decide later on that we should not or cannot enter a team?
A substantial fine, and a ban on travel hockey for the following season across all age groups.
So if my child doesn’t make the travel team now they’re just out of luck?
No. MeAHA allows us to add to rosters next fall if the circumstances warrant. We just need to be confident we have the right group to field a team. It can be tinkered with later on.
What is MeAHA?
The Maine Amateur Hockey Association. It is the governing body for USAH affiliated youth hockey in Maine.
What is travel hockey?
Travel hockey is distinguished from “house” hockey in that it is more competitive. Typically the players in travel hockey are more experienced, more skilled, or more competitive than those who play house hockey. It is more or less like an all-star team drawn from an organization.
I hear people talking about Tier 2 and Tier 3. What are these tiers?
In Maine, there are three “tiers” for youth hockey. Tier 4 is house, or recreational hockey. It is open to all players of a particular age group and MeAHA rules require that there be no tryouts for tier 4 teams. With very few exceptions anyone should be able to join up and play at the tier 4 level. Associations that enter more than one team in an age group at Tier 4 are required balance them evenly. In other words, and association cannot load all their best players on to one tier 4 team and leave the others weaker
Tier 3 is the first level of selected hockey. Associations assess players and can place players on teams based on advanced skill, experience, competitiveness, or some combination of all three.
Tier 2 is a step up. Very few organizations in Maine field tier 2 teams. As an example, this season there were eleven Tier 3 squirt teams, but only three in Tier 2.
Are tryouts required for everyone, or all teams?
No. If you don’t believe your skater is ready, or your family is not ready for the commitment, there is no reason for you to try out. We expect to have programs available for people who are not ready for, or don’t want, the travel experience. We hope to able to offer house, or Tier 4, programs for squirts and peewees next season.
What do you mean commitment, is it more expensive?
Yes. Our travel programs are more expensive. There is additional ice time and more games. Typically the travel programs cost about twice what the house programs cost. For instance for the 2017-18 season house squirts cost $600, while the travel team cost $1135.
In addition, there is an exception that players make it to all games and practices.
What sort of ice time do the travel teams get?
Our travel teams typically skate four times a week, and occasionally five times. The usual week during the heart of the season will include two mid-week practices, and two week-end games. In October and November we tend to have more ice devoted to practice rather than games.
Many of our players—-both travel players and house players—are also on their respective middle school teams. The Middle Schools typically play once a week, late Sunday afternoon, or early evening. However they rarely practice. Middle School hockey is open kids from grade 5 through grade 8. This means most travel players will be on the ice five times a week.
We also offer dry land training regularly during the preseason, and occasionally during the regular season when the schedule allows.
For the 2018-19 we plan on offering a regular off-season program for bantams and midget aged skaters (15-16) that will include conditioning, dry land training, and on ice sessions. A budget and a plan are being worked up. There will be an additional fee for this, but the program will not be required.
Where are practices?
Beginning in October we take the ice at Watson Arena on the Bowdoin College Campus in Brunswick. Beginning in mid-November when the college teams begin their regular practice schedule our mid-week practices shift to Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn. This season squirts have practiced Monday and Wednesdays at 6:30 PM, while peewees and bantams practice at 7:30. We also supplement this practice schedule with Saturday evening practices at the Casco Bay Arena in Falmouth on weekends when a team has fewer games.
Home games are split pretty evenly between Watson in Brunswick and CBA in Falmouth.
Probably the same kids always make the travel teams?
No. Travel hockey is a two year proposition. There is no reason to assume just because a skater made the travel squirt team as a ten year old that he or she will necessarily make the peewee travel team as an eleven year old. Remember, that skater will also be competing with twelve year olds from both the the current year’s T3 team, and the T4 team. T4 is competitive hockey. For the most part, T4 peewees will be bigger, stronger, and faster than T3 squirts.
We expect out Tier 4, or house teams to serve as development tools.
As an example, this year’s peewee travel team has four players who played on our Tier 4 peewee team last season; two of them had never played travel hockey and two of them had last played travel hockey as second year squirts. Likewise the 2016-17 peewee team had five players who had not played travel hockey the previous season, and three of them had never played travel hockey.
Why are you talking about Tier 4? Midcoast doesn’t have T4 peewees.
That’s right, this season we did not have a Tier 4 peewee team. The combination of having no identified goalie and what looked like a smallish group of skaters made it impractical this year. It looked like we would be offering a more limited opportunity for development along the lines of our squirt/peewee development program. We felt it was in the players' best interests to play on T4 teams at neighboring associations. But our goal is always to have both a travel team and a T4 house team, at least for squirts and peewees.
How big will the teams be?
The size of the selected team is an important consideration. Smaller teams may compete at a higher level. As team size grows each additional player added is necessarily less skilled than the others so weaknesses in team play are exposed. But a smaller team limits the number of skaters developed by the team.
Larger teams develop more players but may struggle to compete at the target Tier level because of the need to provide equal playing time.
Teams should generally have between 13 and 15 skaters plus a goalie, or two. The minimum recommended team size is 12 skaters plus a goalie. We expect, due to different recovery times for older skaters, that bantam rosters will be slightly larger than peewee or squirt rosters.
How are the tryouts done?
The intent is to create an unbiased process where all skaters have an equal opportunity regardless of parental involvement in coaching or other MCYH volunteer service. Hockey skill and game sense should be the primary drivers allowing for a reasonable degree of coach’s input with regards to attitude, effort, and “coach-ability.”
An neutral group of evaluators with little, if any, prior knowledge of our skaters’ abilities will score tryouts. The intent is to select teams based primarily on a numerical compilation of the unbiased evaluations. The selection committee, which will consist of the evaluators and the head coaches designated for travel at each age level, will receive the results of evaluations and make final determination of skater’s relative abilities.
There will be at least two on-ice sessions of at least an hour a piece for each age group. The first evening is skills and drills so the evaluation team can see each player performing the same skills test. The second night involves game play, a portion of which may be full ice while another portion involves small area games.
Should any coach as a member of the selection committee ask the evaluators to select a player out of numerical order, the evaluators are free to seek additional information such as comment from the current season’s on-ice coaches. Any request by the coach as a member of the selection committee to select a player out of numerical order must also be approved by the President (or board proxy if a conflict exists) after explanation of the request. The President will not serve on the selection committee itself. Rankings will not be shared beyond the selection committee and President (or proxy).
So while the primary criterion in selecting the team is the numerical score provided by the evaluators, it is not necessarily determinative.
We attempt to make this process as neutral as possible; this is why we obtain the services of outside coaches to rank our players. However, we are a small organization and need the help of our coaching staff and our board to make the try-out runs smoothly. Our coaches will be present on the ice and in the benches during tryouts to assure that line drills are run smoothly and that the benches function well.
Do we need to be at both tryout sessions to be considered for a spot in the team?
Yes. With only limited exceptions and advance permission of the President, attendance at both tryout sessions is required.
Wouldn’t it be better to have all the kids play on the same teams together? Won’t the weaker players get better by skating with the stronger players?
Only within fairly narrow margins. When players of a wide range of abilities play together, as had been the case when we only had Tier 4 hockey, the stronger skaters tend to dominate games, often limiting team-oriented play and passing. It was not unusual under the former structure to see one skater score 5 or more goals in a game while less advanced skaters may have touched the puck for only a matter of seconds during an entire game. These dynamics do not benefit either end of the spectrum.
What is the history of travel hockey at Midcoast?
After a five year hiatus, in 2015-16 Midcoast resumed offering “travel” hockey teams. MCYH discontinued travel programs after the 2009-10 season due to limited available ice time and related challenges. With the opening of the two sheet Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn, and the Casco Bay Arena in Falmouth regular practice ice became available for Midcoast. We had always had strong enrollment numbers, and Squirt/Peewee teams that had competed very well at the Tier 4 level so 2015-16 was an opportune time to make this change and grow our programs.
How much travel takes place?
Other rinks we travel to are in Biddeford, Portland, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Lewiston, Auburn, Augusta, Waterville, Rockland, and Orono. Typically we visit each opposing team once. The team will also be entered in at least two invitational tournaments. One will be closer to home, while the other will likely involve out-of-state travel. This season we went to Stowe Vermont in early December. In the 2016-17 season we went to Manchester, NH around New Year’s.