So you want to play professional or semi pro hockey?
In this post, we’ll cover everything for you from defining what semi professional hockey is quickly to covering the various levels from top to bottom. We'll also briefly cover professional hockey in Europe in how it compares to the minors in N. America.
Let's get started...
Table of contents:
- What is semi pro hockey?
- What is the lowest level of pro hockey?
- Do semi pro hockey players get paid?
- How much do minor league hockey players make?
- FPHL Hockey Salary
- SPHL Salaries
- European Hockey
- How good do you have to be to play semi-pro hockey?
- FPHL Skill Level
- SPHL Skill level
- ECHL Skill Level
- Can you tryout for hockey leagues in the minors?
For starter’s, semi pro is a minor league level of hockey.
The word semi derives from the latin word “half”, so it literally means half professional.
Most all semi-pro hockey leagues compensate their players financially, but many of these players can’t rely on that salary alone as a full time occupation.
In the lower levels, some younger players will work in the summer and then focus on hockey in season.
Other players might additionally coach/work part-time in season too...
On the high end, you have the ECHL which is only two steps removed from the NHL. On the lower end of semi-pro, you have the FPHL (commonly referred to as the Fed).
What is the lowest level of pro hockey?
The FPHL is currently the lowest level of semi-pro hockey league in North America. The leagues original name actually derives from Slapshot (1977) which is one of the best hockey movies of all time.
If you look at team rosters, you’ll probably find a mix of players with strong junior and NCAA experience playing here. You’ll also find some top former ACHA players and even a few Europeans sprinkled in as well.
Moving up from the FPHL, you have the SPHL.
The level of hockey in the SPHL is higher than the Federal league and you’ll commonly find players with stronger resumes. The Southern Professional Hockey League sits between the FPHL and the ECHL.
If we jump up to semi pro hockey in Canada, you have the LNAH which stands for Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey.
Try saying that fast 3x in a row.
LNAH is based in the province of Quebec.
This league is a bit different than the minor leagues in the US. It’s filled with a mix of ex-QMJHL, USports, & a handful of former NHL players. Many would still consider it to be one of the toughest and most physical leagues in the world.
In 2016, Vice Sports did a great documentary piece on LNAH called Drop The Gloves: Canada's Toughest Hockey League.
Moving back to N. American minor leagues....
A step above the SPHL, you have the ECHL (East Coast Hockey League).
Although it’s hard statistically to make the NHL from here, it’s becoming a more common path each season for drafted players to develop and for goalies who generally mature a few years later post juniors or university.
Years back, you had the CHL (Central Hockey League) & the IHL (International Hockey League), but these collectively molded into what is now the ECHL.
The majority of ECHL teams have affiliations with both NHL and AHL clubs.
This is important to mention since the ECHL has become a more common feeder system to the above leagues, with players regularly moving up/down between the ECHL and the AHL.
Do semi pro hockey players get paid?
Yes, but the amount of money you make varies depending on which league you’re in and how good you are.
You're not going to be rolling in dough enough to retire on playing earnings alone, but you can certainly get paid to play the game you love in front of thousands of fans.
How much do minor league hockey players make?
The amount of money a minor league hockey player makes depends on a number of factors which are the league they play in, their playing experience, and the clubs budget/resources that season.
These all factor into how much a player can or cannot make.
In the next sections below, we'll provide you with some helpful information and will cover how much a player can expect to make along with a few direct quotes from players who have experience playing in these hockey leagues.
FPHL Hockey Salary
In the FPHL, players are generally only making a couple hundred dollars a week (tops) which is the league minimum. They can't legally pay you less than that. If you’re a top 3 player on your roster, you might have a special arrangement with bonuses where you’re making more.
We know a few veteran players that could play elsewhere league wise, but they make $400-700 per week and like the ice time/setup.
Because of this, some FPHL clubs are able to intrigue a strong SPHL level player to play for them with those added conditions (aka extra money).
This gives you a sound idea on what an FPHL hockey salary looks like across the board.
Player quote on playing in the FPHL:
"I wasn't ready to give up playing after finishing university hockey and I still had the itch to keep the dream alive a few years longer. I'm not making 6-figures or anything, but I have the opportunity to spend half the year doing what I love on the ice, playing in front of thousands of fans, and getting a paycheck to do just that."
SPHL players make a little bit more than players in the FPHL on average, but not substantially more.
The average SPHL player is making a few hundred dollars a week as their SPHL salary, with a few select higher end/veteran players making a bit more (anywhere from 500-900 per week).
Weekly salary caps in the SPHL are tight, therefore, that cap total must get divided up amongst their active roster. We cover this in more depth in our piece on the SPHL hockey league.
Player quote on playing in the SPHL:
"My team is based in a smaller town in the Southern US. They treat us exceptionally well, from our trainers to the fans around town. I'm in my third season in the SP and make more about 50% more salary per month now than in my rookie season. League gets better each season in terms of players in the league. Have friends playing in other leagues and in Europe. They absolutely love it, but I have a wife and baby so it made more sense for us to stay in North America."
Whether you’re playing in the Fed or the SP, one of the biggest drawbacks we hear from players is that after taxes/paying for food/and so on, they’re not able to take home that much money at seasons end.
Although most players in the minor leagues know this going in....it’s still always worth reviewing.
Some of the higher end guys are able to make a bit more, but it’s quite a grind otherwise financially.
When we help players place in European professional hockey leagues, one common feedback we hear from players is that the day-to-day living is more enjoyable for them both on and off the ice.
This makes sense….since European clubs are usually located in beautiful cities.
There's the most well known ones like Copenhagen, Paris, Budapest, and Prague...but we could name endless cities all with teams there.
Hockey leagues in Europe also have lighter game schedules which can allow for more travel in-season.
If you're interested in how much money hockey players make in Europe, we covered this at length in this previous piece.
How good do you have to be to play semi-pro hockey?
There’s a minimum threshold, but it truly depends on which hockey league you’re interested in playing in.
Some leagues are considered pro.....whereas others are semi-pro.
It's extremely important that you're honest with yourself if you're asking yourself this question.
3 questions you must ask yourself if you want to know if you can play semi pro hockey:
- is my skill level on par with the majority of players in this league based on my position?
- do I have a comparable resume on paper to players in the league?
- if not, what attributes can I bring to the club for them in place of that for them to realistically be interested in me?
Asking yourself these three questions (above) in order is important....
By answering number one...you should know if your skill is somewhat close or on par to players in the league (if you're not sure, ask someone familiar with the leagues you're interested in playing in- player, hockey agency, etc).
By answering number two, you'll know if players in the league you want to play in have more extensive hockey resumes than you. You can do this by clicking on a teams roster and looking at the leagues that players have played in previously (did they play NCAA, juniors, etc)
If there's a few players on a team that have somewhat similar playing backgrounds as you, great.
If not, that's okay too. Maybe you took a year or 3 off after playing at a high level for personal reasons (focus on school/work, battled injuries) and you still have the burning desire to keep playing again.
In this case, you 100% need help getting your name in front of the right clubs and conveying your strengths in void of a few years off playing.
This in where your answer to question number three comes in...what attributes can you bring to a team?
On the other hand, if you haven't played anywhere competitively and you're all of a sudden aiming for the top-tier semi pro leagues straight out of the gate, you need to re-adjust your initial aspirations because it's not feasible to make that big a jump asap.
You're better off trying to get your foot in the door in a lower tier (if that's attainable) and then moving up from there based on your play.
FPHL skill level
If you look at an FPHL roster, you’ll find an assortment of hockey resumes.
They’ll range from top junior and a few European players to more high end players that have some NCAA/USports experience.
SPHL skill level
The SPHL is getting more competitive each year. If you haven’t played NCAA, USports, or were an elite level junior hockey player, it’s going to be hard to gain any interest from a club here.
Even if you have played at this level, your play needs to be a good level since many players are getting sent down from the ECHL, Europe, etc.
ECHL skill level
ECHL clubs are looking for players with strong collegiate or major junior experience.
With the bulk of coast teams being affiliated with NHL clubs, they have no shortage of players in development systems being sent their way.
Can you tryout for hockey leagues in the minors?
Yes, various clubs throughout the FPHL and the SPHL have free agent camps.
We generally wouldn’t advise it though for the majority of players.
If you’ve spoken directly with the club ahead of time (coach, GM) and they’ve shown genuine interest in signing you, it might be okay to attend.
Otherwise, attending a free agent camp with hopes of earning a roster spot isn’t a wise move.
You are paying to be there and you’ll be on the ice with a wide mix of players (many of whom shouldn’t be there based on their level of play).
Sure, you could show up out of nowhere and give the coaches no other choice but to invite you to main camp, but it's not a likely outcome.
If you are good enough to play for a club in these leagues, you’ll likely be speaking with the club directly (either via an agency or yourself). You won’t be signing up online, attending a free agent camp, and ending up on the 1st line PP.
In closing, I hope you’ve taken away some useful information regarding semi pro hockey, hockey salaries, and the overall experience that minor league players may go through.
If you're a player who's looking to keep playing and you have the skillset to do so, send us a message.