MIDDLETOWN – Since launching in this past summer, the New Jersey 87’s have not only emerged as another viable junior hockey option at the Jersey Shore, but one of the top organizations in the newly minted Eastern Hockey League Premier Division (EHLP).
Though still in a state of relative infancy, the 87’s have climbed into contention for the EHLP’s Southern Division championship with an 9-4-1 (19 points) start to this 2017-18 campaign, a 14-game performance that puts the Middletown-based franchise in fourth place in the Southern Division, just one point behind the third place Philadelphia Revolution, and three points short of the second place Philadelphia Little Flyers.
It’s a promising opening to the year that the organization’s co-founder and head coach Adam Houli credits to his club’s cohesiveness, and what’s more, a chemistry cultivated by the club’s captain Clayton Thomas.
“In a situation like this, where guys are trying to come together quickly, you can’t downplay the importance of strong leadership, and I’ve witnessed that especially from Clayton,” Houli said of the Wall Township native.
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“Clayton has shouldered this role before, so it’s not new to him, and that’s apparent. He knows how to bring a group of guys together, and we made sure that when we put this team together that we were bringing in the right guys; character guys who come from good families that would buy into the family atmosphere we’re trying to create here…and Clayton understands how to foster that environment.”
Though the 87’s are still developing as a team, Thomas believes their strong showing through 10 tilts is an indication of much more to come.
“I think we have great potential here. We’ve shown a lot early on. We’ve shown some toughness, we’ve shown some fight and we’ve shown some skill,” said Thomas, who registered 29 points in 43 NA3HL games a season ago with L/A Fighting Spirit and the Skyland Kings.
“I think as we continue to gel and progress we’re only going to improve as a team. I’m excited to see what we can do once we really come together.”
Prior to making the jump to the junior hockey level, Thomas was standout on the blue line for four years at Wall Township, finishing his scholastic career with 35 points on 10 goals and 25 assists, and helping the Crimson Knights to a Class B North division championship as a freshman.
After traveling to Maine last year to skate with the Fighting Spirit, Thomas has been vocal about his excitement to continue his career at the next level, and to do so in his own backyard.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for the guys in our locker room, and it’s one we don’t take lightly,” said Thomas, who leads all 87’s defensemen in scoring with nine points on three goals and six assists, while helping the club to a 9-4-1 record through its first 14 games.
“There’s a lot of guys who grew up in New Jersey playing on this roster, and we take a lot of pride in representing our community and our home state at the junior hockey level. We have a chance to set a strong foundation for the future of this program, and we’re hoping to continue to do that.”