For years, the prep hockey scene was a patchwork - unless you lived in New England. Starting next year, that's all going to change.
The Prep Hockey Conference is launching for the 2021-22 season, bringing together six elite programs in North America: Shattuck-St. Mary's School, St. Andrew's College, Northwood School, Culver Academies, Mount St. Charles Academy and South Kent School. All six programs have developed NHLers and top-end NCAA players throughout their histories.
"All six of us have had various relationships over the years," said St. Andrew's coach David Manning. "We're off the beaten path for a lot of the traditional prep programs in the East, so we've relied on each other to make sure our schedules are competitive and fulfilled."
Many of the teams in the newly-formed conference have played each other in the past, but now there will be a more formal, consistent schedule (and they can still play other teams). Seeing these teams go up against each other more often will also be a boon for NHL scouts and NCAA recruiters.
"You've got 40 kids in academic settings who are all thinking about the NCAA as part of their future," Manning said. "And the offshoot of that is for the NHL draft, through the six teams you'll have a collection of kids that will draw interest."
The heaviest hitter in the bunch is Shattuck-St. Mary's, the Minnesota school that has churned out NHLers such as Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise. This year's star is potential 2021 first-rounder Scott Morrow. Also in the Midwest is Culver, an Indiana-based military school that produced John-Michael Liles, Ryan Suter and 2020 San Jose Sharks pick Timofei Spitserov.
St. Andrew's is the only Canadian team in the new conference, located just north of Toronto. Saints alum include NHLers Warren Foegele and Morgan Barron, plus Detroit Red Wings pick Kienan Draper and 2021 draft hopeful Jack Bar.
On the Eastern side of the conference, Rhode Island-based Mount St. Charles boasts alumni like Bryan Berard and Brian Boucher, as well as 2021 draft hopefuls Guillaume Richard and Nate Benoit (Benoit is still on the team; Richard is in the USHL).
Northwood, out of Lake Placid, NY, is coached by former Rochester Americans bench boss Chadd Cassidy and can take credit for developing Vegas Golden Knights prospect Jack Dugan. NHL alumni include Mike Richter and Tony Granato.
South Kent is based in Connecticut and recent alums include Columbus rookie Andrew Peeke, Florida prospect Chase Priskie and NCAA stars such as Shane Pinto (OTT) and Zac Jones (NYR).
Simply put, this is going to be very exciting for prospect-watchers. Getting to see these programs face off consistently will bring up the level of competition and also give a better picture of just how good the players on these teams are.
"The biggest thing is that we all have the same intentions and mindset for the experience that we're trying to provide for our players and programs," Manning said. "To have schools aligned in that manner is really exciting and we can showcase what the prep level can offer at its highest level."