The New Jersey 87’s may be a relatively new team in junior hockey, but team co-owner/general manager/head coach Adam Houli says it’s the approach that has allowed the team to find immediate success in the Eastern Hockey League.
“Our organization is only three years old, but we’re in the development mindset,” Houli said. “We really believe in the structure of developing guys both on and off the ice.
“I feel like that’s why we’ve found success in just three short years. Everything we do, we do for the right reasons.”
Houli has found himself wanting to spend more time developing players through in-depth film study and other approaches. Even with the additional time, Houli wants to make sure it is put to proper use.
“Every practice, every meeting and every film session has a purpose to it and it’s efficient and it’s focused,” Houli said. “We don’t have time to not be efficient. We don’t have time for not having a reason for doing something.
“Everything we do here, there’s something behind it.”
The 87’s have caught up and, in many cases, exceeded the competition in a hurry.
The 87’s, who share the Middletown Sports Complex with the New Jersey Titans of the North American Hockey League, began competition in the EHL Premier in 2017-18 and went 33-9-2 in their debut. The 2018-19 season represented a jump to having teams in both the EHL and EHL Premier. New Jersey won the EHL North Division with a 33-11-1 record in its debut.
The EHL has realigned this year, but the 87’s are still in first place. They are 13-5-0 to lead the eight-team Atlantic Division following Friday afternoon’s 3-0 shutout of the third-place Philadelphia Revolution. The win was the seventh in the last eight games for the 87’s.
“They have the North American [Hockey League] team in the building, which is huge for people looking to get to the next level or looking to play [NCAA Division III] hockey,” said Justin Vickers, a 20-year-old defensemen from Murrieta, California, who recently committed to play Division III hockey at Stevenson University. “I just felt like being here was the best way for me to meet one of those goals, whether it was moving up or getting the D-III commitment.”
Vickers is one of three players who have been with the 87’s through their three-year emergence in the EHL.
Forward Trevor Cear and defenseman Tim Lazouski are the others.
Houli said the 87’s have covered all corners of the market in their recruiting, mixing home-grown talent from New Jersey youth programs with players recruited from California, Florida, Maine and internationally.
“We work hard at it. We’re at a lot of recruiting events. We see a lot of the same faces. People know who we are when we’re at an event,” Houli said. “… We look for, ‘Do you compete? Can you skate? Do you know the game?’
“When you look at our team as a whole, we have a wide range of prospects. We have blue-chip prospects who are coming highly rated out of top organizations around the country, then we have prospects that we find that are hidden gems.”
Andrew Maynard, a 20-year-old from Naperville, Illinois, shares the team goal-scoring lead with Daniels Leja. Tim Debord, 19, from Parker, Colorado, has 15 assists, two behind Leja for that team lead. Ian Graiff, who recently joined the team from the defending champion New Hampshire Avalanche, posted a shutout in his 87’s debut Friday, handling all 12 shots he faced.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Hickling Images.