Junior Hockey 101: Structure

BRANDON, CANADA - MAY 23: Aaron Lewadniuk #20 of the Brandon Wheat Kings body checks Cam Fowler #24 of the Windsor Spitfires during the Final of the 2010 Mastercard Memorial Cup Tournament at the Keystone Centre on May 23, 2010 in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Diehards, experts, Canadians: turn a blind eye. You may already know this.

Recent diehards, future experts: settle down. Though you don't know everything about the junior leagues, don't worry. You aren't alone.

This is Junior Hockey 101. Because we weren't all born with an innate knowledge of hockey (or so it seems), we're going to cover all the basics, week by week, all you need to know about the junior leagues. Lesson One: Structure. 

What you've got to know about the juniors is that it's all about the levels. You've got the Major Juniors, followed by the Junior A's, B's, and C's.

The Major Junior League presently consists of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), which is comprised of three leagues--the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League, and the Western Hockey League. 

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), nicknamed "The Q," consists of eighteen teams from Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Maine. This league is league known for their caliber offense and goalies. Guy Boucher was formerly coach of the the Q's Drummondville Voltigeurs.

The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) is part two of the CHL. Another Canadian-based Major Junior League, the OHL is made up of twenty teams: seventeen in Ontario, two in Michigan, and one in Pennsylvania. This year, the OHL has nine players in Round 1 of the Draft, including Tyler Seguin (C), Taylor Hall (LW), Eric Gubranson (D), and Cam Fowler (D).

Finally, the Western Hockey League (WHL). The WHL covers Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest, with teams in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Home to the Vancouver Giants, it's where our favorite killer, James Wright, ended up mid-season. Each year, the three CHL leagues compete for the Memorial Cup, which the WHL has stolen eighteen times.

Below the Major Junior Hockey Leagues, you have the Junior A-D's, but in Canada, the emphasis is on the Major Juniors (i.e., this is where you'll see the most activity in the coming draft).

In the U.S., there are nine American Major Junior teams, but those teams are placed within the CHL. In the U.S., the emphasis is placed on the United States Hockey League (USHL), which is currently the only Tier 1 Junior A league in the country. The USHL consists of 14 teams across the Midwestern United States. 

The North American Hockey League (NAHL) makes up the Tier 2 Junior A team, which is followed by six Tier 3 Junior A teams, and finally the latter Junior B and C teams.

What you'll see immediately is that the bulk of the players come from from the Major Juniors, which are mainly Canadian-based. Don't confuse causation with correlation, however. You'll see the bulk of the players in the Major Juniors because that's where the bulk of the players are.

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