Here's Hoping: Updated Tryout & Player Contract Guidelines Around the U.S.
By Scott Lowe – MyHockeyRankings.com
Note: This story was updated June 1 with information on the Minnesota ice rink reopening.
It seems as though the two biggest questions on the minds of hockey players and their families right now are when are ice rinks going to open and when can tryouts and tryout camps take place?
Remember that this is COVID-19 we are dealing with.
Nothing is easy. Nothing is definitive. And what might be true for one area of North America may not be for others. Since I’m only one person with access mostly to information that relates to the United States, that will be the focus of this particular article.
The assumption is that many of the larger metropolitan and more-populated areas in Canada will be following similar guidelines and best practices to what we are seeing here in the U.S. Also, it understood that some areas in Canada, just like a few jurisdictions in the United States, may be farther along than others along on the path toward reopening ice rinks. In fact, we do know that there are some rinks that have opened and are able to accommodate small groups of skaters while adhering to the most recent guidelines as determined by their state and local governments.
While USA Hockey has issued some guidelines concerning the proper considerations and procedures to follow when we can ultimately return to our local rinks in its Returning to the Rinks document, the national governing body for hockey also has made it clear that it is up to rinks and clubs to follow the timetable and guidelines for opening as mandated by their local jurisdictions.
The short answer about when we can return to the rinks is that there isn’t a single correct answer. “It depends,” is what you will hear when you talk to most hockey officials at the state, affiliate, district and national levels, and that is not just a cop out.
Every state has released a plan for reopening that usually includes three or four stages or phases that are staggered and based upon criteria such as number of tests available, new positive test results over seven- or 14-day spans after entering a phase, the ability to track or trace new cases and the ability for local medical facilities to handle the number of new cases during that mandated period.
If things go as planned and the required numbers are met in a specific state or local jurisdiction, that area may move into its next phase. By going to your own state government’s website you should be able to find your locale’s roadmap to reopening and then determine based on recent numbers provided by your state government what stage or phase you currently are in as well as what phase you need to progress to before ice rinks can open on both a limited and fully operational basis.
By understanding your state’s requirements for entering a new phase or stage you can also determine what the earliest timetable might be for restrictions to be eased to the point that tryouts, practices, games and even tournaments can be held. This is not foolproof by any means, as any spikes in numbers of new cases or deaths could lead to a halt even possibly taking steps back in the process, but at the least you should be able to come up with an approximate best-case scenario.
For example, in Massachusetts where there are many hockey tournaments and showcases held throughout July and August, the governor announced on May 18 that the earliest youth sports could begin with limitations would be June 8 and the earliest larger youth sports events such as games and tournaments could take place would be June 29.
For hockey, that June 29 date seems a bit optimistic given the current restrictions on numbers of people who can gather in one place at one time and that for a hockey tournament to be held with so many games and participating teams you would likely need to be allowed to have more than 50 people in a facility simultaneously. That’s on top of all the other restrictions that would need to be implemented to ensure a safe environment before any large event could take place.
But at least it gives us hope.
Giving us more hope are the most recent COVID numbers from around the U.S. During the last seven days as of May 21 the number of test results recorded is up 21% across the nation while the overall average of daily new cases is down 1.4 percent and the seven-day daily average of new deaths is down 17.7 percent. Meanwhile, only seven states are showing an increase in daily average positive test results compared to the previous seven days.
So progress is being made.
Rinks are opening for small groups slowly and surely, and our efforts and sacrifices over the last 10 weeks are finally paying off. A little more time, patience and inconveniencing will be necessary for us to get to where we want to be, but you can be assured that hockey officials around the continent are meeting and brainstorming with health and medical experts on a daily basis to come up with as many scenarios as possible that will allow us to have a hockey season that is as close to what we are accustomed to as possible.
The uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID-19 and what that means for the immediate and longer-term future of ice rinks in general – and hockey specifically – definitely is creating some angst among hockey players in regards to where they might play next year, tryouts and the issuing of player contracts.
Because every state – and even different jurisdictions within individual states – is reopening at a different pace with different sets of guidelines and restrictions, USA Hockey has been unwilling to make a blanket statement when it comes to an updated policy for Tier 1 and Tier 2 tryouts and contracts. USA Hockey has, however, recommended that teams only offer contracts to players who will be returning to the same clubs for which they played last season.
This is just a recommendation and not a requirement, which leaves the ultimate decision regarding tryouts and contracts in the hands of the individual districts and their affiliates.
In some districts, the differing regulations and approaches to reopening among the states represented within their territories also has made it impossible for officials to issue blanket regulations regarding tryouts and contracts, forcing them to leave it up to their individual affiliates to determine the proper policies and procedures regarding tryouts and the issuing of contracts.
Other districts have amended their recruiting and tryout rules and implemented new policies that are already in effect or about to take effect. And still other districts are taking a wait-and-see approach based on how the situation plays out in their area while also possibly hoping for more guidance after the annual USA Hockey Congress, which is scheduled to be held virtually June 10-13.
When it comes to COVID-19 we are dealing with an extremely fluid situation, so to get the latest tryout information for your area it is probably best to check your affiliate organization’s website frequently. We provide district links below in case you cannot locate your affiliate’s website. Someone within your local club or association should be able to point you in the right direction as well.
Below you also will be find the updated tryout and contract information for as many areas as we could track down in addition to links to some additional helpful resources. There also are links to each USA Hockey district website, which should help you find your local affiliate organization as well. We plan on updating this periodically with any new information we receive or uncover.
USA Hockey is divided into the following districts:
- Atlantic – Delaware, Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey
- Central – Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska
- Mid-American – Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia
- New England – Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont
- New York
- Northern Plains – Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming
- Pacific – Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Washington
- Rocky Mountain – Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma
- Southeastern – North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, D.C., Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida
Here is the current USA Hockey rule regarding Tier 1 tryouts:
“Tryouts for Tier I teams must be published and advertised. No youth Tier I or II team may recruit or solicit players or offer hockey contracts to players for the following season, or hold development camps, tryouts, player selections or any activity that could be construed as a tryout/solicitation or recruitment for the following season, until 48 hours after the last game of Youth National Championships (both Tier I and Tier II Nationals must be completed). For example, if the National Tournament ends at 4 pm on Monday, tryouts can begin after 4 pm on Wednesday. Any violation of this prohibition may subject the coach, team, program and/or responsible administrators to appropriate discipline, or ineligibility of the team or coach, as determined by the Affiliate.”
This year’s USA Hockey Nationals were cancelled, and all USA Hockey activities have been cancelled or postponed since mid-March. USA Hockey has recommended that Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams only 2020-21 contracts to players who played in their organization for the 2019-20 season.
In response, some districts and local affiliates have announced their own new tryout and contract procedures:
“The AAHA has approved those clubs that are authorized to field Tier I Teams at specific age levels. Tier I Player Agreements may be issued by Tier I Clubs on or after June 1, 2020, and ONLY for those teams and age-levels as specified by the AAHA. Example: A Tier I Club is approved for a 14U Major Team and 14U Minor Team. The Club shall not make any offerings or players agreements for teams that should otherwise be offered during the Tier II or Non-National Bound & Non-Tiered Travel team time period.”
For Tier 2, “The AAHA has approved those Clubs that are authorized to field Tier II teams as determined by the AAHA. Tier II Player Agreements may be received by Tier II Clubs on or after June 11, 2020. The Tier II Club shall not make any offerings or players agreements for teams that should otherwise be offered during the Non-National Bound & Non-Tiered Travel team time period.”
The Central District is leaving the decision about tryouts and contracts up to its individual affiliates based on when state and local jurisdictions allow ice rinks to open. Illinois is preparing to enter Phase 3 of its reopening plan, which means rinks may be able to open for small groups as of June 1. The Midwest affiliate (Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska) will hold tryouts as rinks are open and available and will abide by all USA Hockey recruiting rules currently in place or any amended rules that are published. Wisconsin (WAHA) and Missouri Hockey also appear to be awaiting state and local jurisdiction guidance
“Consistent with the 2019-20 USA Hockey Annual Guide, any program/team that is considering participating in the 2020-21 Massachusetts Hockey National Bound State Tournaments are (is) allowed to recruit, solicit and sign players to hockey contracts effective April 7, 2020 at 4:00pm.”
Also, “Given the uncertainty of access to facilities and absent any concrete timelines, Massachusetts Hockey feels that it is in the best interest of both our players and our programs to permit parties to enter into hockey contracts without the need to conduct formal on ice tryouts if a program so desires.”
According to the MAHA Website, “…there are many working groups planning alternatives for whatever scenarios we find next fall. I expect that in early May, the Michigan web site will have a section dedicated to this planning, with up-to-date information on rink openings, tryouts, physical safety for participants, etc. Over one hundred hockey leaders in Michigan are participating in these working sessions.”
Also as of May 6, “Tryouts, or any activity that could be construed as a try-out as defined in the MAHA Guidebook, are prohibited right now.”
Mid Am Hockey: “Given the current governmental orders in place within the boundaries of the Mid Am District, the Mid Am Board has chosen to extend the current suspension of any USA Hockey sanctioned activity from May 15, 2020 to June 15, 2020. It is the Board’s intention that this policy will not be extended beyond June 15 unless new and exceptional circumstances arise and are communicated by a governmental authority. Above will be in effect unless individual states within the Mid Am District issue a return to play order prior to June 15, 2020.
Also, "Everyone must continue to comply with the policy of their state with respect to group activities, youth sports, and rink openings. All changes will be posted to our website."
Tryouts for the Minnesota Hockey High Performance Program (Tier 1) for ages 14U, 15U, 16U and 18U are scheduled to take place in June and July with more information to come as the COVID situation becomes more clear.
UPDATE: As of June 1, ice rinks have reopened in Minnesota for the purposes of practices, clinics and tryouts only with a long list of restrictions, including restrictions on the number of participants permitted in the rink at the same time. The state is targeting August 1 as a potential date when games can be played featuring teams from the same geographic region.
CLICK HERE for the ice-rink reopening/return to play document with all of the guidlines listed for each phase of reopening in Minnesota.
No information available. We are aware of teams in New England outside of Massachusetts that have been awarding contracts and assume such activity is permitted at this point similar to Massachusetts.
New York State
Montana encourages all rinks to follow state guidelines for reopening. South Dakota tryouts for its national-bound tournament teams are scheduled for July 24-26. Read more here. The assumption is that any other tryouts in this district will be dependent upon rinks reopening as well as lifting of state and local COVID restrictions.
Player movement as well as tryout dates will be determined by each individual affiliate based on local and state recommendations. For affiliates not listed below, the best thing to do is check their websites or your local club’s website regularly for updates.
Alaska has set Tier 1 tryout dates for July 17-19, with more details to be posted here.
For California, assuming that COVID restrictions are removed, Tier 1 tryouts cannot start before August 14, and Tier 2 tryouts cannot start before Aug. 21. A decision will be made about permitting players to be signed to contracts without a tryout on June 20.
Player movement as well as tryout dates will be determined by each individual affiliate based on local and state recommendations. To find out any news for your local affiliate organization, the best thing to do is check its webstie or your local club’s website regularly for updates.
The Southeastern District is leaving the tryout and contract decisions up to its individual affiliates:
CAHA (NC, SC)
It appears as though you will need to check your local clubs’ websites for any tryout information. Some clubs have announced tryouts as early as June 24.
SAHA (AL, AR, GA, LA, MI, TN)
Tier 1 contracts may be offered without a tryout as of the scheduled date that a program’s tryouts were originally supposed to begin until 75 percent of a team’s roster is full. Supplemental tryouts will be held to fill the remaining spots no sooner than two weeks from the dates rinks open to allow players ample time to prepare.
The Tier 2 rule is similar, with a minor variation that requires approval by all Tier 2 clubs in major metro markets.
PVAHA (MD, DC, VA)
Tier 1 teams can offer contracts to returning players beginning May 26 and to new players starting on June 1. Supplemental tryouts will be held later in the summer based on the lifting of COVID rink restrictions to fill the remaining Tier 1 roster spots. Tier 2 tryouts will can be held 14 days after the designated Tier 1 supplemental tryout date.
Tier 1 tryouts are scheduled for July 10-12, with Tier 2 tryouts starting July 13.