With COVID-19 spreading throughout North America this past fall and winter, several leagues were forced to shut down and others had abbreviated seasons. Ian Moran, the Director of NHL Scouting for Neutral Zone, has been mostly confined to Massachusetts with travel restrictions through United States, Europe and Canada. Not only that but more than half the draft prospects in the CHL haven’t played a single game this season.
“It’s an unpresedented time in amateur hockey and when I saw all the players in the Northeast who lost their season or had it cut short, I wanted to do something to help,” said Moran. Ian has become one of the most respected skill development coaches in the United States and designed a 10-week league for top NCAA/CHL prospects in New England inclduing 3 practices per week and 2 games on the weekends. He is calling it the Pandemic Hockey League.
When Neutral Zone shared the idea on social media and asked players to reach out if they were interested, they recieved nearly 500 applications. Instead of Neutral Zone picking the teams, they compiled a board of scouts/coaches at various levels (NHL, NCAA, USHL, NAHL, QMJHL and AJHL) to vote for the top 84 players in the league. “A lot of hockey events we scout are watered down because organizers know that more players means more money, but we wanted to keep this small to ensure the highest level of competition.”
Given the support of the hockey community, several sponsors stepped up to keep costs down for the players and expand their offerings to include combine testing and a training camp. Neutral Zone decided to name each team after their lead sponsors; Sully Mac, CCM, Athlete Conditioning Training and Hockey IQ Program. The training camp will run two weeks and allow the players to prepare for the season. The NZ Combine will be run in partnership with former NHL Strength and Conditioning coach Mark Fitzgerald and Sports Testing Inc, the worldwide leader in sports testing technology and analytics. Each player will go through an hour of on-ice testing and an hour of off-ice testing. Neutral Zone has also partnered with Hockey IQ program which will be breaking down game video and providing additional coaching on decision making, hockey IQ and analytics for the players in the league on Sunday nights. “These team sponsors allowed us to expand the league to include a two-week training program and also provide an opportunity for the players to be professionally tested both on-ice and off-ice by the best people in the business.”
Aside from Combines, film review and three 20-minute periods, the PHL will also be unique in it’s coaching. Steve Wilk, President and Founder of Neutral Zone, came up with the idea of eliminating the position of team coach and instead having the same core of skill development coaches running practices and then inviting junior, college and professional coaches and scouts to be on the bench for games.
“At it’s core, this is a development league,” said Wilk. “Instead of learning from one person over 10 weeks; we want our players to learn from multiple coaches at different levels of the game.” Wilk believes this not only benefits the players but the coaches and scouts as well in providing them a front row seat to prospects they are interested in to learn more about how they react to coaching, what kind of teammates they are and how they perform in key situations.
Training Camp will begin on April 5th and the players will have two weeks to get in shape and ready for the season before they are tested at the NZ Combine. The season officialy starts on April 21st where the players will practice three times with their team and then have their first offical game on Sunday April 25th. The following week will have three practices each week and two games on the weekends.
“We have recieved a lot of interest from the scouting community from the NHL down to watch these players so we want to make sure they are ready before we start playing games,” said Moran. “Some scouts haven’t seen these prospects since last year so it’s important we give the players the best opportunity to show what they can do by having essentially three weeks of practices before they play their first full weekend of games.”
All games and practices in the Pandemic Hockey League will be played in Wellesley, Massachusetts at the Boston Sports Institute.