The New Jersey 87s are getting ready for its inaugural season in Middletown as part of the Premier Division of the Tier III Eastern Hockey League. Head coach and owner of the team, Adam Houli, talks about working with co-owner Matt Kiernan, the challenges of being an expansion team, working with the Titans and the story behind the team’s name and logo.
Anthony DiPaolo: At what point did you and Matt (Kiernan) realize that you would be running a new hockey team in the newly formed Premier Division of the Eastern Hockey League?
Adam Houli: Matt and I have known each other for a long time now, and it was actually August of 2016 that we really started to look into operating a junior franchise. We had focused on our development with two youth teams that we were coaching, and Matt with the girls program, and we felt that we had the right pieces to take it to the next level. So we did our due diligence, put a business proposal together and sent it out to many leagues, and felt that the EHL was strongest league with the stability they provided. Around December we found out that we got the green light and started our process of recruiting.
DiPaolo: With the new Premier Division in the EHL, are other teams going through the same process?
Houli: Yes and no. We were one of only three teams in USA Hockey to grant expansion as a Tier III Junior operator. Within the league, they added four or five new teams but none as an expansion. As the only expansion in the EHL, it’s something we take pride in; coming into the league as new operators, and we look forward to not only operating to the EHL standards, but also our own standards which we’ll hold very high to ourselves.
DiPaolo: Can you talk a little more about working alongside Matt Kiernan?
Houli: Matt and I have been working together in the hockey world for the last four years, but have been friends for about 16 years, and we’ve been working with each other for the last eight months very, very closely.
DiPaolo: Would you consider running the 87s as the biggest task you and Matt have taken on?
Houli: Yes and no, this is the biggest piece right now. We also focus on the Girls Youth Titans, as Matt is the director there. We also run a summer and a spring program, and in the next couple of weeks we’re going to announce even more to our summer program that we do. So we do have a lot on our plate, but with that being said, it means we can do a lot, so we’re pretty excited for what we have going on here and we’re looking to get better.
DiPaolo: What are some of the challenges you face as an expansion team?
Houli: I think it’s a little bit of everything right now; the administrative side, the budget side, recruiting the players. As an expansion team, sometimes the players are a little nervous to go to a team that hasn’t operated yet. Those are the things we saw as little problems and hurdles we had to get over, but I thought we did an excellent job. The players we brought in here are really buying into our culture and I think they’re going to reap the benefits of being around that. It’s something we pride ourselves on, the guys we have here, and with us directing them the right way, the sky is the limit for them.
DiPaolo: What about the Titans? How much have they helped the 87s in this process?
Houli: I can’t say enough about the Titans program, including Craig (Doremus), Bobby (DiRico) and his staff. They have lead the way with this affiliation and we have been able to develop with them. Matt and I are always talking to them about drills, have been a part of their practices on the ice, so we can take what they do and apply it to our guys. When our players watch the Titans practice, it allows us to have an up-beat, up-tempo practice because the guys see it from the NAHL standard. We wouldn’t have that if it weren’t for guys like Craig, Bobby, and even Ryan (Cruthers) with the Charlotte Rush. They’ve been very welcoming and wanting us to work under the same umbrella and work to get our players to the next level.
DiPaolo: What’s the story behind the team name, 87’s, and the logo?
Houli: It’s for New Jersey in itself, an ode to the state. New Jersey became a state in 1787, and the three stars above our logo represents it becoming the third state to enter the Union. We’ve been New Jersey guys all of our lives, so we wanted to pay a little bit of homage to our home state. Our secondary patch is even an ode to the New Jersey Turnpike. We really wanted to keep this about New Jersey, so it was a big thing for us to pay homage to the state.
DiPaolo: Speaking of the state, there seems to be a lot of quality junior programs in New Jersey. There’s the Avalanche in Hackensack, the Titans here, and now the 87s. How do you see the state’s presence in terms of junior hockey?
Houli: It’s becoming hotbed right now. That’s a big reason why Matt and I wanted to get this started. The players in this area have been tremendously successful and we want to capture that. We want to keep them home, we want to make sure that New Jersey is being looked at as a state where colleges and scouts and pros want to come to and watch. And having us here now as an operator under the NAHL banner gives us more resources to provide to our players so they can continue to develop. We see certainly see New Jersey as a hotbed, we’re very excited to be here and can’t wait to continue this progress with the upcoming season.
Houli will lead the 87s as they take the ice for a preseason game against the New Jersey Rockets on Saturday Sept. 6 at the Middletown Sports Complex, with puck drop at 7 pm.
87's Set For Inaugural Season