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WHC Update on Travel League Play

By tom gullen, 03/12/21, 5:00AM CST



Dear Winnetka Hockey Club Families,


As you may have heard, the Northern Illinois Hockey League (NIHL) has introduced a new level of play, Premier Select, which will launch during the 2021-22 season. Qualifying for this level will be based solely on a team's on-ice performance through a seeding round or based on the previous year's finish. Teams will be based on birth year, periods will be longer, and the new level of play creates an opportunity to play against some of the best Tier II competition in Illinois. The Winnetka Hockey Club has decided to embrace this offering, not only for the competitive benefits, but because it is guided by a transparent and fair process for determining who qualifies.  


This new offering more closely aligns with the community hockey club model we've long espoused and supported. Removing the mystery of the selection process behind the highest levels of Tier II hockey in Illinois allows our teams to determine on the ice the level at which they deserve to play. That's the way we believe it should be. One of our club's primary strengths has always been its members. This Premier Select level provides an outlet and a fairer process for WHC families; some of whom in the past have felt they needed to leave the club to pursue the highest levels of Tier II play. 


The introduction of Premier Select offers an increased level of competition within the NIHL structure itself and we believe diminishes the value once offered by the Central States Development Hockey League. The annual process for Central States inclusion starts with an application submission in March. The Club will not be submitting a 2021-2022 application for any birth year, choosing instead to focus on how best to incorporate the Premier Select offerings into our program.


We want and expect our travel program to be among the elite Tier II programs in the United States. In fact, numerous Warrior teams have competed in the National Championship tournament throughout our club’s history. We expect no less today.


While Premier Select does offer an increase in competition for select ages, it is our firm belief that the commitment to player development through an unwavering focus on fundamentals delivered by an elite coaching staff will have, by far, the greatest impact on the level at which our players and teams will be able to compete.  By continuing to invest in this commitment, we expect to equip our players and teams with the tools to compete at the highest levels of Tier II hockey regardless of the local league in which we play.


We recognize that many of you may have questions about this development.  Therefore, we have provided some Q&A below and have also begun to schedule Zoom meetings in order to provide maximum transparency and guidance.  Please also click here for a more comprehensive report on the landscape of youth hockey in Illinois.


-The WHC Board & Staff






·       Q1: Can we apply to Central States in March and then play in Premier Select if our application to Central States is denied?
A1: No. Applying for or Playing in Central States would disqualify all Warrior teams
 from participating in Premier Select for the next 3 years.

·       Q2: Are other hockey clubs making the same decision to participate in Premier Select?
A2: Yes. 
While a number of clubs will almost certainly continue to participate in Central States, it appears that this new NIHL offering is being broadly embraced, even by a number of clubs that have recently participated in Central States.

·       Q3: Will we still have the opportunity to compete against all clubs during the AHAI State Tournament at the end of the year?
A3: Yes.

·       Q4: Will we be able to scrimmage against Central States teams throughout the year?
A4: Yes, as we have done this year with many teams, increasing (or decreasing) our level of competition through off league games is common practice.

·       Q5: For which age levels is Premier Select an option?
The NIHL Premier Select division will be offered beginning at the Squirt age level continuing up through at least the Bantam age level.

·       Q6: What birth years will join Premier Select next year?
A6: Over the next month the club will recommend an implementation plan for Premier Select.

·       Q7: How was this decision informed and determined?
A7: With the strategic plan as our guide, we then relied on the experience and knowledge of our own staff & board: consisting of hockey players collecting over 20 years of college play and 6 years of professional play.