Any hockey parent will tell you that once your child starts to play hockey, it's in your blood forever. Which is a good thing if your child is good enough to play on a AAA hockey team in the United States or Canada because the commitment level for both player and parent is even higher than it was in travel hockey.
If your child has been tearing up the ice in their house hockey league or is a talented player on their travel team, AAA hockey is the next level of hockey. Also known as "Tier 1 Hockey," AAA Hockey is the highest level of youth hockey in the United States. There are several AAA hockey leagues in the United States and Canada. Some are located in a small region of North American and some leagues have teams located all over the United States.
If you look at biographies of North American players in the NHL, you'll notice that many of them have played on AAA teams of some sort. There are AAA programs in nearly every state in the U.S. While not all AAA teams are created equal, AAA teams do tend to play other AAA teams (and an occasional AA team). Michigan for example fields several AAA teams and most of them finish high in the national rankings every season while another state may only field one or two teams but can't compete with the best teams in Michigan.
AAA Hockey is a much larger commitment than house and travel hockey. It's not uncommon for AAA teams to play 60+ games in a season at tournaments all over the United States. You can imagine the cost involved with sending your child all over the country to play in hockey tournaments.
Just the fees to play on a AAA team can run anywhere from $3,000-6,000 per year. And that doesn't include travel costs, hotel rooms, meals, and equipment. Basically, be prepared to spend over $10,000 per year if your child is going to play AAA hockey. It may be less than that if you don't have to travel very far for games, but don't count on it. Travel costs can sometimes add up to more than the team fees and equipment costs combined.
Given the amount of practices and games at the AAA hockey level, you'll want to buy higher quality equipment. You don't necessarily have to buy the same equipment that NHL players are using, but you'll want to buy equipment that can hold up and not deteriorate too badly as the season progresses. If you want the best-of-the-best equipment, you'll have to spend well over $1,000 for the entire package. As you get older and big enough to wear senior equipment, you'll probably start to spend $1,000+ if you want to buy a decent set of hockey equipment that will endure and entire season.
Playing for a AAA team is not much different than playing for a A or AA travel team other than the cost and greater competition. You must tryout for the team, you typically have to be one of the more talented players in your region, you must have a burning love for the game of hockey (because it's a grueling commitment), and you must have the financial means to play.
AAA Hockey starts at the Squirt Minor age classification (9 years old) and continues up to the Midget Major age classification (18 years old). The wonderful thing about AAA hockey is the exposure to play in front of college and professional scouts at nearly every tournament. Hockey is much different than nearly every other sport in the United States in regards to the scouting process. During the first year of their Midget Minor (15 years old), players will be in what is regarded as their "draft year." Not the NHL Draft, but there are several junior hockey leagues in the United States and Canada that your child will be eligible to enter their drafts at the end of their first year of Midget Minor. For example, a player that was born in the 1998 birth year will be in their "draft year" during the 2013-2014 season.
Your child (if they are good enough) can potentially be drafted into a wide variety of junior leagues. But parents need to realize that even though their child is playing at this level, it is no guarantee that they will be drafted into a junior league. Let your child decide if they want to make the commitment to play AAA Hockey. Pushing them in hopes that they will be drafted to the next level or get a college scholarship is the wrong approach. Even at this high of a level of youth hockey if your child's heart isn't into it, they should not be pushed to do something they don't want to do.