First of all hockey is a sport that is enjoyed by players of all ages, from 3 years old up to 70+. Regardless of your age, as long as you are willing to learn how to skate and play the game you will be able to compete and have fun. In our region the leagues are arranged by age and level of play. Age ranges are set at 2 years to allow players of approximately the same size and maturity to play together and allow younger players to be competitive with each other instead of letting the older kids dominate due to their physical maturity.
We have the following age ranges: Hockey School, Novice, Atom, Peewee, Bantam, Midget and Juvenile.
For each of these age categories there are different levels of skill in competitive and non-competitive leagues.
AA - Major
AA - Minor
A or B - Major
A or B - Minor
In the Competitive leagues there is usually a further segregation in age to allow the players to really compete with their peers. Their first year in that age range the players are referred to as "Minor" while in their second year they are "Major". Usually there will be an elite AA team and sometimes even a AAA team which combines players from a larger geographical area. There will then also be an A or B competitive team for both Major and Minor ages. Competitive teams travel quite a bit which makes the hockey more expensive. They usually practise several times a week and take part in a variety of tournaments. Teams are composed of the best players in their age range.
For House-League teams, the play is more relaxed, although the level can be competitive, there are less practises and less tournaments and the games are mostly local. There are usually three levels of house league play.
For house league, minor and major players are grouped together. The better players play at the A level while weaker players play at the C level and average players play in the B level. This tiered system is good as it enables strong players to play together and it lets weaker players develop by competing against players of their calibre. Without this system, the good players would always have the puck and leave the weaker players behind which would leave little room for the weaker players to play with the puck and develop their passing/shooting skills.
For the Adult levels, there are also a variety of tiers. Each league has many different levels of play so teams of a similar level can play against eachother instead of getting blown out every game. For example my current league (Minto hockey league) has 12 levels and 1 level for players above 35 years of age. Other leagues in ottawa also have different levels (OSMHL has 9, travellers has 19 levels + 5 levels for players above 35 years of age).
Regardless of your skill level, there is a league out there that will have players of similar calibre to you so you can learn, improve and have fun!