MIDDLETOWN — It’s all about options.
In 2015 the NAHL’s eastward expansion brought the first major junior hockey imprint to the Shore, as the New Jersey Titans arrived and have since flourished.
Three years later, another route up the developmental ladder has emerged with the New Jersey 87s.
A nod to the year 1787 — when New Jersey ratified the new U.S. Constitution, following Delaware and Pennsylvania, and thus expanding the the Union to three states — the Middletown-based club’s moniker is fitting, as it also helps mark the expansion the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) and it’s newly founded Premiere Division, a second developmental collective of franchises under the EHL umbrella.
Upon its launch the 87s franchise has become an affiliate of the Titans, and in doing so the club’s inaugural coach Adam Houli has adopted a similar philosophy to that of Titans second-year head man Craig Doremus when it’s come to constructing his own roster.
“Our goal when we started this program was to find the local talent, identify the right group of guys in our own backyard and provide them a place to play at the next level, a place where they don’t have to be away from home for eight or nine hours a day,” said Houli, a Howell native.
The strength of Garden State hockey is depicted by the breakdown of this roster, and accentuated by the start this club has had to it’s first season.
The 87s are currently 3-1-1 — including three consecutive victories to open this 2017-18 campaign over the Philadelphia Revolution, the New Jersey Renegades and the Central Penn Panthers — and feature a personnel group that includes 21 rostered players, 12 of which are from New Jersey, with six skaters holding residence in Monmouth or Ocean County.
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“I believe in our state when it comes to producing players who can compete at the highest levels of the game,” Houli added. “I truly believe that there are a lot of players in this area who can handle playing at the next level…They just need to have a direction. For us, we see the local area as a hot bed, and we’re going to make sure we do a good job keeping guys here.”
SCHOOL’S OUT FOREVER: Fans of high school hockey in the Garden State will recognize several names and faces on this 87’s roster, as eight of the club’s 12 New Jersey-born skaters have competed at the NJSIAA level.
Trevor Cear and Mike Termine were teammates for three seasons at Jackson Memorial. In 2015-16, the duo helped the Jaguars clinch the program’s first division championship in program history. A year later, after Termine moved on to Monmouth University, Cear helped captain his program to its first ever Shore Conference Cup title.
87’s netminder Jake Lakatos was an All-Shore Conference caliber keeper at Brick Township, before foregoing his senior season to compete at the junior hockey level with the EHL’s Philadelphia Jr. Flyers. While with the Jr. Flyers Lakatos posted a save-percentage of .922 to go with a 2.40 goals-against average in 16 starts.
Sean Carver was a three-year varsity skater at Red Bank Catholic, and helped the Caseys capture a a pair of division championships and an overall Shore Conference crown in 2015. Fellow Shore Conference blue liner Clayton Thomas was a four-year varsity standout for Wall Township, helping the Crimson Knights to Class B North division championship in his freshman campaign.
Josh Rosenbaum starred for Robbinsville High School, notching 97 points on 60 goals and 37 assists in just two seasons of scholastic competition. Christian McCue registered 45 points over his junior and senior campaigns at Nutley High School, and Kyle DePalma was a three-year varsity player at the Hun School.
MORE HOMEGROWN TALENT: Though they may have opted out of the high school game, Vincent Cirillo, Jack Lane, Kevin Troy and Pierce Wickenden have all come up through the New Jersey hockey ranks.
Cirillo (Freehold), a 2000-born defenseman, played in the New Jersey Jr. Titans organization two years prior to joining the 87’s, and skated last season alongside Wickenden on the 18U AYHL team. Lane (South River) skated with the Mercer Chiefs, and put up 32 points in 23 games a season ago for the organization’s 18U AYHL team, the same club Troy laced up with and registered 20 points for.
LEADING THE WAY: Termine is the team’s leading scorer with 14 points, and is one of five 87’s skaters with double digit production, including McCue (12), Lane (12), Troy (10) and Rosenbaum (10).
McCue has eight goals to front the club’s attack, while DePalma and Rosenbaum each have seven.
Termine is fourth in goals scored with five, and is the organizational leader in assists with nine. Lane has dealt out eight helpers, while Thomas and Troy each have six.
UP NEXT: The 87’s will be back in action at Middletown Ice World on Sunday, Oct. 29 when they welcome the New York Apple Core to town for a league game that will double a breast cancer awareness event. For more information on the 8 p.m. tilt and fundraiser head here.