JY20: How the season is organized

November 27, 2015 on 9:32 am | In analysis, JY20 | 2 Comments

With the high school hockey season about to start, it’s important to understand how the season works. Most of you already have a good idea, of course, but it’s worth repeating anyway.

There are 433 high schools that compete in sports as members of the NJSIAA (New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association). In ice hockey, however, there are 124 teams, plus four private schools that are not NJSIAA members, for 128 total New Jersey teams.

The 124 NJSIAA teams are split into conferences, some of which are specific to hockey (NJIHL, MCSSIHL) and some of which are used for all sports (Shore Conference, CVC, GMC, Skyland, UCIAC, Big North). Teams are listed in their conferences and divisions on the NJHockey.org standings page.

The four independents are members of the New Jersey Independent Schools Athletic Association (abbreviated NJISAA, which is very easy to confuse with NJSIAA) and set their own schedules. Although teams can be members of both the NJSIAA and NJISAA, and many are, these four hockey-playing schools are not NJSIAA members and cannot compete for NJSIAA state championships. They play against other private schools in either the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League or the Independence Hockey League.

Schedule rules

NJSIAA teams may play 26 games from Nov. 28-Feb. 22, with the NJSIAA state tournaments following that deadline. The NJSIAA offers one state tournament for private schools and two for public schools, which are divided into Public A (large schools with enrollment figures greater than 1,060) and Public B (schools with enrollment figures less than 1,060). Teams may not play more than one game in a day, may not play games on three consecutive days, and are limited to three games per week (defined Sunday-Saturday), although they are permitted to play four games in a week on one occasion. NJSIAA regulations (PDF)

League play

Each league is, of course, governed by its own set of rules. Leagues with 10 teams or more are split into divisions, often (but not always) based on skill level. Those leagues adjust teams “up” or “down” to more appropriate divisions after each season or every two seasons.

League schedules

When it comes to scheduling, most teams are required to play division opponents twice, with some leagues scheduling crossover games against other league teams. The CVC and the Gordon Conference count those games in their standings, while Morris County, the Shore Conference, and the NJIHL’s Super Essex Conference do not. So everybody does it differently. And believe me, this all changes over time. Ten years ago, alignment looked very different.

In their leagues, teams are required to play anywhere from 8-14 games, so they then complete with their schedule with non-conference games set up by the teams. These can be regional or traditional rivalries, easy games to help a team make the state tournament, hard games to help a team improve before the state tournament, games set up by coaches who know each other, or matchups determined by whoever has room in their schedule at the same time.

Find out who’s playing who on each day of the season.

League playoffs

Most leagues have one or more end-of-season tournaments to decide the league or division playoff champion. Several counties also hold championship tournaments, with Bergen and Passaic counties playing in January and Mercer County crowning its champion at the same time as league tournaments, February.

These tournaments, which usually award a “cup” trophy to the champion, often draw large, emotional crowds, because the championships are contested on a local basis, pitting familiar rivals against each other.

What teams compete for

Teams also compete in regular-season tournaments, so players can conceivably compete for a tournament title, a regular-season title, a playoff title, and a state championship. It’s a lot to keep straight. But most teams keep that .500 record and Feb. 8 date in mind when scheduling at the beginning of the year and as they play throughout the season. After all, everybody wants to play for the state title.

See your team’s schedule and track their progress all year.

State tournament qualification

Qualifying for the state tournaments requires a minimum winning percentage of .500 for all games played through the second Monday in February (Feb. 8, 2016), with at least 70 percent of those games coming against in-state opponents. Teams whose winning percentage is below .500 but who are within four games of .500 (e.g. 5-9-2 or better) may apply for an at-large bid to the state tournaments; there are three at-large spots available to Public A teams, three to Public B teams, and two to private schools. As the most competitive division in the state, members of the NJIHL’s Gordon Conference qualify for the state tournament automatically.

State tournaments

The state tournaments are contested in single-elimination knockout tournaments, with a committee seeding the teams based on their performance during the season. The three championship games are held at the New Jersey Devils’ Prudential Center in Newark. This year’s finals are scheduled for Monday, March 7, 2016.


  1. Well done. Been watching for 17 years but the refresher was welcome. Thanks.

    Comment by Mark — 28 November 2015 #

  2. I have been waiting for the stats to be updated, why are they so far behind? In the beginning of the season they were updated in a timely manner, now they are lagging behind.

    Comment by Mike — 20 January 2016 #

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