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For NCAA bound players looking for scholarships, the AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League) becomes a juicier offer each year. This league is producing higher draft and higher quality scholarships each year, and AJHL hockey is quickly rivaling that of its neighbors to the West and bigger leagues out East.
Bantam and midget players are scouted and eventually added to a team’s “white card” list. This list is a way for teams to protect a maximum of five players before they become full-time AJHL hockey players. (It ensures that you will play for the team who signed you, not somebody else in the league.) If you are under 18, a parent must sign for you. There is no minimum age to sign a player, and players do not need to be on a white card to be an affiliate. This system is, essentially, a form of a five-player protected list. If you are 17 and not officially carded by an AJHL hockey club, you become a free agent again, free to sign with anybody throughout your midget season.
To find the link to the AJHL White Card list, click here.
Affiliated and white card players may be called up at 15 years old. Any white cards who step on AJHL ice must be signed to an additional card by filling out an affiliate form. However, only one may dress per team, per game. This 15 year-old player counts toward the 16 year-old restrictions the league employs. Being affiliated with a major junior club has no barring on Junior A affiliation, including maximum games played as an affiliate. All affiliates must be singed by January 9th in order to be called up later in the year. A team can sign five affiliates for up to five games each. This leads to somewhat of a rotation of affiliate players by coaches, or even not calling up certain affiliate players until later in the season so they can be used at more critical times.
The AJHL, in the summer of 2013, created a committee to look at the potential of having an entry draft in the future.
I got traded (er, loaned) to the Canmore Eagles of the Alberta Junior Hockey League from the BCHL for my 19 year-old season. (Without a doubt it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever played.) Since that time back in 2006, the league’s talent level has really spread around.
AJHL hockey was a little more tough and systemized (depending on the opponent) than other Junior A leagues I played in. Interestingly though, the top-end players were just as good as anywhere else, and these guys got drafted or took scholarships. Even as an ex-major junior player, I sat down with one NCAA school to work out red shirting for a scholarship. Players from this league are sought after.
There is plenty of AJHL hockey talk about how the league stacks up in comparison to others. The average AJHL team would be better than a lot of leagues—it depends a lot on the budget, like in every league. (I explain why this is important in Junior A and how effects you in my book, The Junior Hockey Truth.)
The Alberta Junior Hockey League has two divisions, North and South, with each team getting to play every other. The South division is great for travel but has some real “barns” to play in. The North division has longer road trips, but at least the stands will be packed when you get up there. Some places have great rinks. Research what AJHL teams you want to play on since some consistently produce more scholarships and winning programs than others.
What to expect
There is room for every type of player in this league—small, large, finesse, rough, defensive, offensive. It’s quite well-rounded. You’ll see some high-end players getting drafted and teams with a lot of depth going deep in playoffs. In other words, when a team is good, it is really good.
Certain teams seem to find players from out-of-province that really enhance a team’s potential. Like any league, the AJHL teams who do the best also have the best recruiting practices and reach. With the Mac’s tournament hosted right in Calgary, you’ll certainly get a look from all teams, and a lot of the AJHL hockey talk shifts its focus to this Christmas tournament when the league shuts down.
Traditionally, the Alberta Junior Hockey League opens up training camp earlier than other Junior A leagues in the West. Most camps happen in mid-August. then a long exhibition schedule gives scouts an opportunity to see a new class of players before the regular season opens during the second week of September. AJHL hockey stops after Christmas and doesn’t fire up again until the new year, creating a longer Christmas break than most leagues.
In recent years, the AJHL has received an increasing number of college commitments for its players. The 97 scholarships awarded in 2011-12, when division I, had a slight lean toward the old WCHA and CCHL conferences, located more in the Mid-West and Western States and Alaska. There was also a significant amount granted from NAIT and SAIT, local Alberta colleges. Ultimately, if a player is good enough to receive a division I scholarship, he can do it in Alberta.
The Alberta Junior Hockey League consistently has NHL picks too, having four chosen in the 2012 entry draft, second most in Canada. The league never seems to fall below third-most in the country for draft picks.
Past alumni of the AJHL include Mark Messier, Ken Daneyko, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, John Davidson Jim Playfair, Sheldon Souray, Lanny McDonald, Lindy Ruff, Mike Vernon and various Sutter brothers.
More recent alumni are Dany Heatley, Rene Borque, Mike Comrie, Scott Hartnell, and Devin Setoguchi. Joe Colbourne and Mason Raymond were drafted right out of the AJHL in the first and second round.
In 2012, the AJHL sent eight players to the CJHL Prospects Game. This was the second most of any league in the country.
For 2013, an AJHL team will now be limited to a maximum of 4 players on the roster that have each played in 41 or more lifetime CHL games. Players having played less than 41 CHL games are not subject to this limitation.
In late-September the league holds an annual showcase. This is a three day event where regular season games are played back-to-back over the three days, allowing scouts to congregate in one spot to see new players.
In years past, there was debate if the Alberta Junior Hockey League held an advantage over B.C. due to its playoff format where top teams receive a bye. This could potentially lead to the Alberta champion playing one less playoff round than the B.C. champ. However, B.C. has now shortened it’s playoff schedule. These two leagues combine with Saskatchewan and Manitoba to compete for the Western Canada Cup. The winning team moves on to the national championship.
June 4, 2013
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