While SPMHA will not be holding a formal Evaluation Town Hall meeting as we have had in the past couple of seasons, the process for Community Hockey Evaluations has not changed much, if at all, from last season. I wanted to share several points about the upcoming U18 Evaluation Games and some FAQs that often are asked.

If you would like further information about the SPMHA Evaluation Process, we have posted last year’s Evaluation Town Hall Meeting video on-demand here. This meeting disseminated a ton of information about the SPMHA Evaluation Policies and Process, discussed hot-button topics such as Evaluators, Evaluation Games, Team Creation, and a formal Grievance Process that was introduced several seasons ago.

Several questions arise each year from the U18 membership. One of the most prevalent is: “how does my player move up and down the ‘tiers’ based on their game evaluations scores?” In U18 we have a unique scenario with typically a lower number of registrants than in other division, players returning from Elite-stream tryouts at any time throughout our process, as well as insufficient numbers to simply play multiple games with players of a similar skill level. This necessitates that we mix players of varying skill together in some games and do our best to evaluate these players based on where their skill places them against all players in the division.

We have published the Player Movement Matrix to help visualize the evaluation process for the U18 level. In addition, the SPMHA Evaluation Policies and Procedures Manual (updated in 2023) is the authoritative source for the Evaluation policies for the Association.

A couple of important notes about Evaluation Games:

  • As you likely will notice in the scheduling, the U18 division typically will be scheduled during later ice times as our players are older and better equipped to deal with later nights. These late times will continue to be assigned for practices through-out the season.
  • For those new to the U18 division, once we reach regular season, all games consist of 3x 20 minutes top time periods with floods between each period and are assigned 2 hour and 15 minute ice times.
    • Evaluation games will not follow this format with exception of the final Tier 1/2 Evaluation game.
  • Initial tryout groups are based on the level the player played at the previous season(s). Movement “up and down” possible as soon as first game is finished, once initial groups are graded. After several games, players will be divided into rough teams based on similar skill. These teams will form the basis of the rough tiers.
  • Not every player that would like to play checking will be able to play checking hockey.
  • Some players may play higher, or lower, tiers than in previous seasons due to the number of positions required at each level and the number of players trying out for this position.
  • All participants that begin the SPMHA U18 Evaluation process from the beginning will have at least 3 grading games. Players that come into the SPMHA U18 Evaluation process mid-way through the process (due to sickness, illness, or being released from an Elite-stream tryout) will participate in as many evaluation sessions as we can fit them into. This is dependent upon how many evaluation dates we have remaining. 3 games minimum is not guaranteed to any player entering mid-stream in the process.
  • If a player is injured or sick, please let me know prior to any schedule evaluation games. If a player is injured or sick and participates in an Evaluation game and has a poor performance, there is nothing that we can do – any evaluation scores will stand for that session. We have a policy in place to deal with players that are sick or injured and cannot attend any evaluation games. (More information may be found in the SPMHA Evaluation Policy, specifically section 2.16.)
    • If player becomes significantly ill or injured during the game, they must notify the bench boss and see the director immediately following the game if they cannot continue playing.

Finally, several key Questions and Answers regarding evaluations can be found below:

Q. What are the evaluation criteria used to rank my player?  Who decides on them?

A. Depending upon the level of hockey being evaluated, whether there is Body Checking or not involved, and the position (Defense, Forward or Goaltender,) players will be evaluated on a set of 5 to 7 different criteria.  Each criteria has a weight assigned to it, with some criteria (compete, game understanding/hockey IQ, skating ability, for example) being assigned a heavier weighting than other criteria (such as shooting, passing and scoring).

These criteria are selected by the Evaluation Committee within the Hockey Operations group within SPMHA, based upon the recommendations of Hockey Canada.  The weighting for each criteria is determined by the Evaluation Committee with input from Divisional Directors who are intimately familiar with the idiosyncrasies of their respective divisions. More information can be found in the

Q. I noticed the evaluators are looking at their phones an awful lot.  Aren’t they supposed to be evaluating the players on the ice, not messing around with their devices?

A. SPMHA is using an App-based system called TeamGenius to assist in the process of collection and reporting of the evaluation reports, hence why they may seem glued to their phones.  TeamGenius allows an evaluator to watch the game and use a slider to assign a score of between 0 and 5, with half-point increments available.  Comments may be entered on individual players and skill criteria.  An aggregate score is then reported for each player based on the entire group that played in that game.

Q. Why is Little Johnny’s father in amongst the evaluators while Little Johnny is playing in that game?

A. Probably because the Division Director has concluded that Little Johnny’s father is  decent hockey mind, however that does not mean that Little Johnny is getting an advantage.

To avoid Little Johnny’s father from affecting the scores for other players competing for a spot in a tier, Little Johnny’s father would be assigned to evaluate players who are not in the same position as Little Johnny.

(i.e. if Johnny plays forward, Little Johnny’s father will be assigned to evaluate Defencemen in that game.  In fact, most directors will not allow Little Johnny’s father to evaluate any forwards at all throughout the entire evaluation process, even the games in a level above or below where Little Johnny might be currently being evaluated in.  This ensures that Little Johnny’s father does not have the opportunity to purposely sandbag the scores for any other players competing against his little angel at the same position.)

Q. Why did my player start with one group of kids, move throughout the process and then end up with some, but not all of the same players?

A. Throughout the course of U18 evaluations, we often do not have the numbers to play an entire game with all similarly-skilled players. We must mix a variety of skills and evaluated scores. For example, in evaluating which players will end up in tier 2 U18, we play games with a mix of players at approximately the tier 1 and 2 level, and then one with players at approximately the tier 2 and 3 level. A player who scores low in a “1-2 mixed game” likely will score better in a “2-3 mixed game”. Ultimately those players will likely end up on a tier 2 team. The same can be said for a player who ends up in Tier 3 – they may show less well in a “tier 2-3 mixed game” than in a game involving more tier 3 players, a good indicator they belong in tier 3.

Q. My player played with a particular player (or set of players) over several seasons but ended up on a lower tier team than those players – what gives?

A. The best, and worst, part of the evaluation process is that players are given the opportunity to display their skillset on the ice, against a group of like-skilled players.  While your child may have played with certain individuals in past seasons but not this season can be for a wide variety of factors:

    • Some players develop strength, speed or agility at different rates as they grow physically and return year over year with different strengths.  The player that had no strength to battle in the corner suddenly dominates in puck battles and receives much higher scores than in previous years
    • Some players make the effort to improve their hockey skills or overall fitness over the off-season; some put in a tremendous amount of effort and improve their placings dramatically
    • Some players spend a lot of time playing video games over the off-season or otherwise not developing their hockey skills
    • There are times when evaluators pick up on the good, or the bad, parts of a player’s game and that helps or hinders the player’s overall evaluation. While every evaluator does their level best to see as much of a player’s game, certain shifts can make or break that game’s evaluation score for that player. This is one reason to encourage your player to make sure EVERY shift is their level best – if a players stays on the ice too long, evaluators may notice that and can negatively score the player on not knowing when to come off the ice, or may see that player give up on a crucial back-check because they are tired, again resulting in a negative score.
    • In some situations, the number of players trying out for a particular position may dictate that a player plays higher or lower than some of the peers they have played with in past seasons. A good example of this is the Defence position. Often times we are short defencemen, and because of this, players may get a chance to play at a higher tier than their Offensive position peers. The Goaltending position can also fall victim to this – in some years we have an excess number of goalies and some goaltenders end up playing a tier lower than they may normally play because there are several higher-caliber goalies in the tiers above them that push everyone else down. Sometimes the opposite is true – a goalie plays higher than they might normally play because there is a shortage of players in that position in a given year. Sometimes late Kings cuts will push players from any position down – if your player ranks near the bottom of the particular tier for that position, they can end up playing a tier lower than they might normally have expected to play due to the trickle-down from SPKAC to our SPMHA house league.
      • One cannot compare where a defenceman plays with where a forward may play – there are a lot more forward positions available per team than defence positions.
      • There may be a lot of good goaltenders (which we seem to have this 2o23-24 season) but only 2 can play Tier 1, only 4 can play Tier 2, etc. Your player may be capable of playing a higher tier, but because of where they grade out in terms of the overall division may be in the position that falls a tier below simply because of the numbers.
    • The trick for parents is to not fall into the trap of comparing your player to players they may have played with in previous seasons. As all kids develop at different rates, hockey players tend to do the same. Your player may progress beyond the similar skillset that hey had with other players and also may be surpassed by other players with skills developing beyond your player’s skills. This is a natural part of development as athletes. Parents should focus on celebrating their child’s achievements rather than lamenting which players may be placed at higher levels than your child did.

Q. My child scored multiple goals in an evaluation game.  Why isn’t he being moved up a tier?

A. Goals are not the only criteria evaluators are looking for. Yes, a multiple goal game in an evaluation scenario may be due to your child having a high degree of skill. It could also, however, indicate that they were in the wrong place at the right time, had a period of good fortune, or could also indicate that they were on the ice against a lesser-skilled line up.

Q. My player was a late cut from SPKAC 18AA or 16AA – they should be put into U18 Tier 1 automatically, shouldn’t they?

A. Not necessarily. Every season we have players that could easily make a AA or even a AAA team, but for many different reasons, choose not to try out for SPKAC teams. Sometimes this is due to the player wanting to focus on school (particularly in grades 11 and 12 where marks and University/College Acceptances are at stake), or work at part time jobs, date, or just want a more relaxed atmosphere without the massive commitment of Elite-level hockey. This is a personal preference for many and there are no assumptions made about late cuts from SPKAC or other AA-level Associations.

Just because a player goes deep in a particular Association’s try outs does not mean they are automatically superior in talent to many players that proceed directly from SPKAC release to SPMHA tryouts, or those that choose not to try out for AA-level hockey.

For example, if there are a limited number of players at a certain position (goaltenders, defencemen, I’m looking at you!), due to the way the Kings club structures their tryouts, a player could be in at least 12 ice times (Kings guarantee every player trying out 3 skates at each level, so proceeding from 18AAA to 17 AAA (age-dependent), to 18 AA and even 16 AA (age-dependent), would necessitate a minimum of 12 ice times, if not more for tryout practices along the way. A player’s fate may be decided early in the process, but because of the minimum of 3 skates at each level, or a lack of replacement players at a certain position until higher-level players are released from above, SPKAC may choose to hang on to a player until there is a viable replacement for them at a level.

In addition, younger players (15 year old or first year U18s) very rarely make the Tier 1 U18 SPMHA team simply because with three years worth of players to select from, the older, stronger, and in many cases, more skilled players are selected for the tier 1 team. That said, there have been instances where a 15 year old/first year U18 player makes the tier 1 team – always based on merit and the skill level demonstrated by the player during evaluation games.

We do our absolute best to ensure that every player, regardless of whether they try out for one or more AA Associations or register directly into SPMHA house, are placed on a team that is appropriate to their skill level against the entire spectrum of all U18 players.

Q. My U15 or U18 player requested to play Checking in their registration.  Why did he end up assigned to a non-checking team?

A. Part of the job of the Divisional Director is to ensure that each player is placed in the group where that player can ultimately have the best chance for success throughout the entire season. There are also safety concerns that we must take into account for some players who have never played body checking hockey in previous years, or who evaluate at a lower skill level than the players who end up in the Checking groups. Using skill-based scores from the evaluations enables a director to determine which players will be able to maintain the pace of the top three groups in terms of speed and skill, an important factor when determining the viability of the player to play Body Checking hockey. The last thing we want to do is place a player into a situation where they could sustain a potentially serious injury by participating in a Checking game that might be above their capacity to play in.

Q. My player played tier X last season in U18, why is he playing the same tier or moving down a tier this year?

A. During the process of forming teams, we sometimes have a spot or two open on a team in a higher tier than a player may grade out at. If we have a couple of spots open in a tier, we may bump a player up to the higher level than they graded at. The next season, if the player’s skill does not progress or a lot of higher-skilled younger players come into the division, that player could remain stagnant or in some (usually more rare), cases drop down a tier.

The 2023-24 season looks like it may be one of those season. In addition we have the added factor of many non-sanctioned hockey leagues, which have attracted players over the past number of years, ceasing to operate teams at this age level and as a result, some players have re-entered the Sherwood Park Minor Hockey fold.

These factors can all contribute to why a player may not move up a tier or can in some cases, be bumped down a tier from what they played the previous season.

Q. Why does SPMHA not use independent evaluators?  I would happily pay the few bucks extra for the use of independent evaluators who won’t screw my kid over year after year.

A. The Executive has debated this topic extensively every single year. The number one complaint we hear from parents surrounds the evaluation process, the use of parent-evaluators and perceived bias against certain players. In the end, there are several reasons independent evaluators are not used with the exception of goaltender evaluations – a highly technical position not easily evaluated by the majority of coaches and Association-based evaluators:

    • First and foremost, the cost for SPMHA to hire a panel of independent evaluators for all divisions has been estimated several times over the years and it is not just a few bucks that could be absorbed easily by a small fee increase. Either the players would end up receiving a single evaluation session with a modest increase in registration fees, or the players would receive a sufficient number of evaluation sessions with an increase of approximately $75-150 per player.  This is not a small increase that can be absorbed by the Association and would go directly into player fees.
    • Each year, SPMHA converses with a multitude of other MHAs, both within our league and across the province. There is a constant theme in all of these conversations that, regardless of who is completing the subjective evaluation piece (independent evaluators or Association-member/parent evaluators), there are still concerns brought forth from parents who disagree with the placement of their child.
    • We have seen some quotes as little as $25/player for three games. At this rate, we have concerns with several factors of this evaluation company – how many evaluators are coming out, not to mention what quality of evaluators are you getting? Are they individuals who are invested in ensuring the players are actually placed appropriately, or are you getting college kids or beer league players who simply want to earn a few bucks towards their own playing fees and who don’t care where our players are assigned to in the end?
    • We have had other Associations tell us that they have confirmed proof that some third-party evaluators in the past have shared results with non-sanctioned teams and that this has actually resulted in some of their higher-end talent players being recruited away from that Association. This talent drain is obviously bad for the Association and something SPMHA has consciously tried to avoid.

At the end of the day, not only is the entire SPMHA Board of Directors, but I personally am committed to completing the Evaluation process with as much integrity as possible. We believe that if we commit to a process and maintain a transparent check-and-balance system, we can put forth a reasonable effort to create fair and balanced teams. We have redirected funds that might have been used to subsidize third party evaluators to development programs that directly impact our children through in-season development programs, equipment to better train and develop the players, coach development and mentorship, and other Association-wide endeavors.

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