MIDDLETOWN — For four years he starred in Middletown as a member of High School South’s perennially powerful outfit.
One year removed from captaining the Eagles to an NJSIAA Public B semifinals appearance – not to mention a Middletown Mayor’s Cup victory over crosstown rival High School North – Gavin Gulash is still lacing up in his own backyard, while he climbs the developmental latter with the New Jersey Titans of the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
“I’m very thankful to have this opportunity. I mean, how many guys can say they play junior hockey five minutes from their house,” Gulash said in a recent interview at Middletown Ice World, the Titans’ home arena.
And he’s absolutely right…
New Jersey Titans offer junior hockey option at the Shore
The Garden State’s best skaters have never been able to stay home and compete at the next level…that is until three years ago, when the NAHL announced its eastward expansion and saw the Soo Eagles franchise uproot from its foothold in Michigan and rebrand in Middletown.
Since then the Titans have made an effort to keep New Jersey’s top talent in state, and have specifically targeted some of the Jersey Shore’s most skilled skaters, bringing in such notable local names as Brad Becker (Howell High School), Anthony Cusanelli (CBA), Mike Gelatt (St. John Vianney), Greg Malafronte (CBA), Todd Goehring (Red Bank Catholic), and this season, Jimmy Dowd Jr. (Point Pleasant Beach, NJ), Eric Manoukian (Manalapan, NJ) and of course Gulash.
“When I first moved here, I dreamed about someday playing junior hockey, but I always figured I’d have to travel out of state to chase that dream…I never imagined that I’d be able to do it at the Shore,” said Gulash, who relocated from Iowa and enrolled at Middletown South for his freshman year of high school.
“But I think having the Titans and the [NAHL] here says a lot about how much the game has grown in our area. You take a look at our roster, we have guys from Russia and Sweden, and all over the United States, and they’re skating alongside a handful of guys who are from right here in Jersey. It just shows that hockey in New Jersey especially has really picked up. We’re developing players that can not only get to the next level, but succeed there. And it’s really special to be a part of it.”
Gulash gets on the stat sheet
Gulash — who registered 141 points on 74 goals and 67 assists in four years of varsity competition with the Eagles — has appeared in five of the Titans first eight games of this 2017-18 campaign, and notched the first three points of his junior hockey career in a weekend series with the Northeast Generals (Sept. 30 & Oct. 1), delivering three assists in the two-game split with the Eastern Division rival.
One of the most exciting combinations of size and offensive skill at the high school level, Gulash has embraced a power forward mentality at the NAHL level, displaying a willingness to throw the body around the boards and in the open ice, while continuing to generate chances in the offensive zone.
“I think it shows a lot of maturation and growth for a young man like Gavin to realize that as he moves up the ladder and gets to higher levels of the game, and his time and space gets tighter, he has to grow his game, and that’s what you’re seeing from him right now,” second-year Titans Head Coach Craig Doremus said. “He’s a doing a really good job understanding that at the next level, he’s going to have to use his size to create shots and opportunities. He’s making it a point to be a physical force offensively and defensively. And we know he’ll be able to contribute at both ends because of that.”
“I’m just trying to learn my role around here,” Gulash said. “I’m a bigger guy, so I want to use my size to my advantage, and play physical and take the body when I can. But I’m not moving too far away from my game either. I have some ability, I like to score and create chances by shooting the puck and making plays. But it’s whatever the team needs. Whatever the team needs me to do to be successful I’m here to be do it.”
Gulash and the Titans will be back at it with a three-game home stand starting on Oct. 20 and 21 when the Northeast Generals (and local standouts Ryan Bogan Jr. [CBA] and Ryan Rowland [Southern Regional]) come to town for two games, before a Sunday match with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights (and former St. John Vianney stars Matt Kidney and Mike Gelatt).
For more information head to www.NJTitansNAHL.com