Frozen Grounds: The Seattle Thunderbirds, The Everett Silvertips, And The NHL

June 22, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Ryan Murray from the Everett Silvertips (WHL) is selected second overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2012 NHL Draft at CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The two hockey teams in Seattle & Everett are not a part of a professional league, but they do help provide players for the NHL - to draft, that is.

The Greater Seattle Area has a very long history with hockey. There have been professional teams in the area for decades, but there aren't any now. You see, the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Everett Silvertips are technically amateur hockey, not professional hockey, because players are paid a stipend.

At least, that's how the Western Hockey League (WHL), the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), and Hockey Canada define them. The NCAA rules on eligibility doesn't agree with that assessment, however that may be changing. As of right now, they still consider that level of hockey as "professional".

Like little league baseball, along with many other amateur sports programs, hockey has amateur levels. While they don't exactly correlate with baseball, they are pretty close. The older age groups have sub-levels to them as well, according to talent level.

The categories listed are for boys playing hockey in the US system only, as are primarily defined by USA Hockey; Canada's are similar, but not exactly the same:

Age.....Hockey............................................Baseball

5-6.......Mini Mite........................................Tee Ball

7-8.......Mite................................................Minor Leagues

9-10.....Squirt.............................................Minor Leagues

11-12...Peewee.........................................Minor Leagues / Major Division

13-14...Bantam..........................................Junior Leagues

15-16...Midget Minor..................................Senior Leagues (14-16 years old)

17-18...Midget Major (15-18 years old).....Big League (16-18 years old)

16-20...Juniors / Major Juniors..................American Legion (13-19)

As with American Legion baseball, junior and major junior players are housed with local families. The families volunteer, as with those who host foreign exchange students do. The major junior and junior players eventually become a part of the family, especially as some may live with the same family for their entire junior career.

Both the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Everett Silvertips are major junior teams. This means a couple of things in regard to the NHL. One, the major junior leagues are considered to be the most like the NHL in terms of travel and style of play by many coaches and scouts. Trades between teams also occur, just like in the NHL, but travel is primarily by bus instead of by plane. And two, the chances of someone drafting one of these players can be potentially high.

The majority of players that are drafted by the NHL come from one of the three leagues that the CHL governs. Along with the WHL, there are also the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The NHL drafts so many players out of these leagues, in fact, that a few European players try to play in them, if they can. Part of it is to be noticed, but it's also to gain the experience of playing on a smaller ice rink. (International ice rinks are much larger than North American ice rinks.)

There is a limit of two non-North American players per team, however. There is also a limit of three 20-year-old players, and four 16-year-old players. A 15-year-old, if considered exceptional, may get a pass to play in major juniors by the CHL. Major junior players still go to high school, and are eligible to play at Canadian colleges, if they so choose.

The American-based equivalent is the United States Hockey League. The USHL, though, is considered a Tier I junior league and not a major junior league. Therefore, those players who want to play junior hockey, but would also like to keep their NCAA eligibility, can still do so. The USHL is not considered as competitive as the CHL leagues are, but a few players do get drafted out of the USHL as well.

In the 2012 NHL Draft that took place last month in Pittsburgh, the OHL had 24 players drafted, the WHL had 32 players, and the QMJHL had 19. 99 out of the total 211 players taken in this particular draft came from the CHL leagues - 18 of those chosen in the first round alone. 24 players were drafted from the USHL, and six of those were in the first round. 19 players were drafted from American high schools.

Seattle and Everett are in the American Division of the WHL, as are the Spokane Chiefs, the Tri-City Americans, and the Portland Winterhawks. The WHL stretches from Portland to Edmonton, Alberta, to Brandon, Manitoba. If you happen to watch a WHL game next season, chances are good that you're not just watching an NHL draftee, but also a future NHLer.

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