Neutral Zone’s Bantam Development League Offers a Unique Approach to U14 Hockey

By Juliette Connors

The Bantam Development League (BDL), run by Ian Moran and Bob Deraney, was developed in 2022. It consists of 30 sessions over the course of 10 weeks, focused on player development and building resilience and skill growth for bantam-age players. 

The program is designed to help participants develop a new set of skills and perception of the game. Moran and Deraney emphasize to the boys the importance of moving away from the puck and opening opportunities on the ice for their teammates. There’s a strong focus on teamwork rather than prioritizing individual play.

“They came in as a group of individuals, but are leaving as a cohesive unit,” said Deraney.

The style of hockey played within BDL sessions is more mature than what one might typically find in a bantam practice. Players pick up skills to play deliberately, thoughtfully, and consciously.

“They’re taught to move with purpose, create space for their teammates and linemates, and understand how to move and play without the puck,” said Moran. “The goal is to train their brains through the skill work we do as they go into high school.” 

“The number one thing we really focus on is anticipation,” said player Alex Munoz. “The coaches push awareness, which is a huge part of the game. Knowing when to move towards and away from the puck, and helping your teammate score.”

The age of bantam players is important concerning the future of their hockey careers. At the U14 level, a more serious evaluation and scouting process begins. The league provides an opportunity for players to be highlighted and receive increased attention from prep school coaches. The BDL caught the interest of a variety of schools and academies, including Mount Saint Charles, St. Mark’s, Milton Academy, Belmont Hill, Cushing Academy, Boston Hockey Academy, and South Kent School.

“I’ve learned how to become a better hockey player but also a better teammate,” said 14-year-old Jimmy Harney, commenting on his takeaways from the program thus far. “Being with such great coaches, we’re set up for success.”

Players were selected based on their skill level, but also their drive to learn and be competitive. The result: a group of 36 motivated, driven U14s who have shown out on the ice. The coaches, players, and their parents have observed massive growth among all the participants over the course of the program. Darin Nixon had nothing but good things to say about his son’s experience with the league.

“It’s like night and day in terms of player progress. In Taylor, his confidence and IQ have improved in a huge way. Ian and Bob are really positive with the kids, and they get a lot out of them while still having fun with it,” said Darin.

Susan Cahill, whose son Nolan is on the roster, agreed. “There’s so much excitement about going to the rink each day. The kids really enjoy it, and with the unique level of competition and high expectations, they’ve clearly gotten faster and better overall.”

Moran and Delaney pay close attention to each individual player, providing an intimate experience that maximizes IQ development and personal growth. Parents have applauded the coaches’ personalized focus, saying that they’re heavily engaged and willing to make time for players who want to spend extra time improving.

Moran and Deraney plan on making the league annual, keeping the number of players low and the quality of the program high to assure the best possible growth for the participants. Next year, they hope to run the program with both ‘08s and ‘09s, with two teams in each age group, and the assurance of large amounts of ice time.

Mike Bosco added “I was fortunate to have one son participate in Neutral Zone’s PHL and another in their BDL. The coaching, competition and overall experience was terrific. This was all delivered at a price where it was obvious that player development was the focus by NZ and not personal wallet lining. Ian, Bob and the countless prep and college coaches they brought in gave each kid training, interactions, and opportunities/visibility that are difficult to replicate. There was a substantial and positive improvement in the overall performance of each player and I strongly recommend any future NZ leagues.”