Before I begin, let me make it clear that this is not a knock on talented AAA players. Parents of these skilled athletes have every right to be able to find appropriate competition for their kids, regardless of age level. Your kids work very hard and deserve to be where they can find a good game.
With that said, something needs to be done about the absolute money grab that AAA hockey has become in our area (and probably everywhere else it's played).
When I was growing up (I am 50 now), AAA hockey served it's purpose. If you were clearly superior to your peers and your family had the means, you could try out for one of the very few Tier 1 teams that existed at the time. I don't remember the tryouts being cost-prohibitive nor do I recall many kids trying out. What I do recall though, was that you really had to be good to make a team since there were so few of them. And when I say good, you clearly stuck out. Not just against your tier 2 teammates, but in your entire hockey club. I would estimate that one kid would even be good enough to try out for AAA about every four years from each club. Sure, there were a lot less kids playing ice hockey back then. But I would also argue that those that did play, on average, were of higher skill (mainly due to the high expense the sport requires).
Contrast this with what we are seeing today. Nearly every club is establishing their own AAA level team. Why? Well, because these clubs are mostly businesses. Why risk losing your most skilled customers when you can keep them? And for the same matter, why not charge all of his or her former teammates two to three times more for a few more practices and an extra tourney during oft unused Summer ice time? But this is only the tip of the iceberg as to the problems this dilution of AAA skill creates.
By enlarge, the original AAA teams in our area are still far superior to the money grabbing clubs, except for those few clubs that have become so greedy that they actually field multiple AAA teams at the same age level (though there is clearly an 'A' and 'B' and sometimes even a third 'C' team). This is easily verified by looking at rankings and standings. But you need not trust me. I hear it from the parents of these new AAA teams. They love the extra practices, the team buses, the video training and nothing more than the badge of honor of saying their kid plays AAA hockey. But they can't stand getting blown out in tournaments and don't understand how they can do so well in league competition, but get ripped apart when they say, go up to New England. Most blame it on bad luck. But the truth is that these teams have no right to play in these tournaments at that level. The tournament results are laughers. Most of these teams hardly score a goal against real AAA competition.
This affect trickles down to every level of competition and even hurts the superior AAA teams as well. Very little is learned during a hockey game, compared with during practice. Absolutely nothing is learned when one team can easily mercy the other. Yet every time a legitimate AAA team plays a money grabbing club, this mercy occurs and no one "really" wins. Then down in AA, so many Tier 2 players are wasting their time on a money grabbing AAA club that there are about 4 competitive teams in all of AA and the rest of the games are lopsided mercy killings as AA is made up of a few AA players and the rest are really A or less skilled. This is repeated, to a lesser degree at the A level. The only one who wins are the greedy club owners.
Every year, this phenomenon continues. It has gotten to the point where every level now has to travel further to find good competition since nearly everyone and their mother is wasting a heck of a lot of money in subpar AAA, travelling around like fools to end up being mercied against real Tier 1 teams. It's getting so bad that my son's team (which is incredibly reasonable to play for since they are non-profit) which has never finished out of the top 3 in AA, can't even find replacements for the players who move up to this subpar AAA. Heck, barely anyone even showed up to the tryouts last year. This year, we had to take on a player who played B last year.
Want to know how bad AAA has gotten? These subpar teams are afraid to play my son's AA team for fear of losing to them. The real AAA teams will play us and we'll give them some game. But they will rightfully always beat us. Usually 6-3, 4-1 or the like.
So as you should be able to clearly see, I really don't have a horse in the race. I could easily pay double or more for my kid to play on one of these subpar AAA teams, but it wouldn't get either of us anything. And he's probably not quite good enough to crack a real tier 1 team (nor do I want to pay for it) It was truly so much better when we traveled less and had better competition nearly every game. Sadly, those days are long gone until USA Hockey establishes either a standard of play that each tier must be able to compete at, or develop a league with promotion/demotion built into the standings (my preferred solution).
In short, there should only be so many tier 1 teams to match the small number of tier 1 players that exist. Everyone else is kidding themselves and draining their bank accounts simultaneously. This is completely unnecessary and damaging the sport for all players at all levels except perhaps for the absolute novices.
It's sad. Really.