Which Ice Hockey Skill Level Am I? A Guide From D-A

Finding out what skill level to play at when you start playing recreational ice hockey is one of the key components to being able to enjoy the game and compete on the ice. Nobody wants to be a cone out there. A realistic view of your skill as well as an understanding your location as well as the size of the league will help you best determine where you should be playing.

As a general rule, players begin at the D level, or Rookie Level dependent on how well they can skate. More skilled players fall in the C-A range depending on experience, length playing, ability, and your location.

With spring and summer seasons coming up and more roster spots are available, now is the time to talk skills. We’ll cover each level in the paragraphs below. While most recreational hockey programs follow these groupings, it is important to note that different skill levels mean different things depending on your geographic location and even rink-to-rink.

D-League: Also Referred to as Rookie or Novice

The D-League is reserved for new players to the game, older players who got a late start, or other players returning from or may have diminished skill levels due to injury. The skaters at this level usually need help with the following skills:

  • Backward Skating
  • Cross overs
  • Hockey Stops
  • Positioning and knowing the basic rules of the game

The good news is most of these skills come with practice and experience overtime. It is common for some players to stay in D for their entire playing experience while many advance and learn more from more advanced levels once they have gotten these basics down.

There is no checking in the traditional sense allowed in this league, but body contact or body checking is usually allowed. Incidental collisions and getting physical in front of the net to fight for position are generally allowed within limits but tight restrictions on cross checking and being in the goal crease are normally enforced.

Likewise, some D-Leagues prohibit the use of slap shots instead creating a rule that the toe of a stick must not be raised above the knee when making a shot. Check with your league commissioner to determine the exact rules of your league.

At times, a league will divide this grouping to a D-League and a novice group to aid with competitive levels. Other times, they will require a skills instruction class to teach the basics before allowing a player to compete. Either way, this league are the best way to get introduced to the sport and the basics of becoming an effective player.

C-League: Medium Skill – Sometimes Upper-C and Lower-C

This is the most common for adult league hockey players. C-League players have typically been playing for a number of years, have a good understanding of their roles and the rules. They have all the skills listed under D-League even if they may not be advanced.

These players usually take some kind of group class for adult league hockey players from time to time and are actively interested in having fun in the game just at a higher level. Occasionally a C-Level skater will take 1:1 private classes with a coach to work on conditioning or skills.

The competitive level of this group tends to be higher, but again there is no checking in these leagues although more contact is tolerated.

B-League: College, Junior and Advanced Skaters

This group tends to consist of younger players and middle-age players who may have played from an early age. These players have a high skill level from skating with the puck to shooting, to being able to skate backwards more fluidly.

As a whole, only a small percentage of people who have played in D-League as older players will make this level of hockey without a commitment of time in terms of playing both pickup and league hockey, practice skating, stick handling and shooting as well as a lot of work with or without a coach.

Sometimes players in these leagues will be former minor league players or coaches who have been around the game for a long time. Again, more times than not these will be contact, but non-checking leagues for insurance and liability purpose – especially if an event is USA Hockey sanctioned. {see our article on USA hockey sanctioning and why you want to play in leagues that are for more information.

A-League: Former Pros, College and High Skilled Players

The A-League is the highest level most recreational leagues will have have in their programs. These consist of the highest skill level players. It may also include former professional players. In fact, some current professional players will play recreational league hockey during the off-season for fun or to stay in shape.

Unlike the B or C leagues, most players here are not actively engaged in any extra skill classes as they already have the skills to play at this level. Their goal is keep in the game and/or have fun with friends. That said, these leagues tend to be very competitive amongst the players and teams.

The checking rules in this league vary from league to league and you should check with your league commissioner before engaging in any activity that can get you penalized, suspended, or even expelled from the league.

Qualifier 1: Geographic Location

Understand that where you are could dictate the level in these various divisions. The D-League in Nashville, Tennessee may look very different than the D-League in Toronto, Ontario. As such you should definitely consult with your league commissioner to determine where you would best fit in, or if they require training before being able to play.

Qualifier 2: Size of the League

Smaller leagues may have fewer divisions and more out-of-class skaters in each division. This usually means the better skaters of C will be peppered in with the lower skaters in D so that there are enough D-League teams to fill out a season. Some leagues may not have enough teams for B and A levels. Consult with your local league for what is available to you and where you can find something that suits you.

What are Player Skills Evaluation Skates?

Many times, a league will require a player evaluation skate before a player can join the league. At these skates, the instructors will run a series of drills and evaluate each skater to determine their skill level for the purposes of maintaining parity within each of their divisions.

It leads to complaints and unhappy people when players show up for a team as friends of another player only to have a B-League player on a D-League team. That isn’t fun for anyone – especially your league commissioner.
At these evaluations, skate to the best of your ability. Don’t sandbag or skate down to get at an easier skill level or you may be frustrated at your situation. Remember that the goal is to be played on a team with players of similar skill level so that you can elevate your game and be competitive.

There will always be players in your league who will be stronger or weaker players but we should all strive to keep ringers out of the mix. Nobody, especially league commissioners are happy when this happens. Except the team with the ringer!

Michael Bagnall

I have been playing and participating in recreational ice hockey activities for the last 12 years. A late bloomer, I started at 38 and have played in leagues, tournaments and pick up (shinny) as well as multiple skills clinics and classes.

Which Hockey Skill Level Am I At?