The New Jersey 87's are excited to announce that Zach Tarantino has committed to play Division III hockey at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth for the 2020-21 season.
Tarantino is a 20-year-old forward from Wall, N.J. and is a two-year veteran of the 87's EHL team. Last year in the team's inaugural season in the Eastern Hockey League, Tarantino recorded 46 points (19g, 27a) in 42 games as a rookie. This year he recorded 51 points (21g, 30a) in 40 regular-season games. In his 82-game career with the 87's, Tarantino has established himself as the current franchise leader in goals (40), assists (57) and points (97).
"I’d be lying if I said it isn’t cool to find out that I am the team’s leading scorer. I would like to thank the refs for all of the ghost points they gave me," Tarantino quipped about his career numbers.
When he wasn't racking up points on the scoresheet, Tarantino would find other ways to spend time at the rink. That usually involved officiating men's league games or volunteering as the scorekeeper for the 87's Premier team. Head coach Adam Houli spoke about Tarantino's two years with the 87's, and how he grew with the organization both on and off the ice.
"He is more than the most dynamic play maker we have ever seen here in the 87’s history; he is generally one of the greatest persons off the ice. It was truly an awesome experience to watch him play and develop over the two years here and he could not have earned this commitment anymore," Houli said. "Zach could have chosen to play hockey in college right out of school at the club level but he knew deep down he wanted to be an NCAA hockey player. With this commitment he now is exactly what he wanted to be."
UMass Dartmouth is a Division III program located in Dartmouth, Mass. Competing in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference, the Corsairs are led by head coach Erik Noack.
Tarantino spoke about his commitment to the program while expressing gratitude to the 87's organization for getting him ready for the next level.
"Just to commit in general is something every player dreams of and I’m super happy that I was able to do that, but for it to be UMass Dartmouth gets me especially excited, he said. "The 87's program means so much to me I owe everything to coach (Adam) Houli and coach Matty (Kiernan). They took me in two years ago and have taught me so much not only about hockey but also about doing the right things off the ice. For anyone deciding where to play next year I couldn’t think of any two better people to play for because as much as they want to win (and we win a lot) they want to see their players succeed in life just as much. If you put the work in they will do everything they can to help you move on to wherever it is you want to go."
Tarantino also made sure to give thanks to his family for helping him throughout his hockey career. "I also want to thank my parents for everything they’ve done for me in hockey from driving me all through youth to watching every game in juniors," he said.
The 87's would like to congratulate Zach and his family as he gets ready to advance his hockey career to the Division III collegiate level.
The New Jersey 87's will look to send a pair of teams to Providence, Rhode Island as the EHL and EHLP playoffs are underway. Both squads have clinched the number one seed in the Mid-Atlantic Conference and will have to win a best-of-three series to punch a ticket to Schneider Arena in the campus of Providence College.
Premier team overtakes Little Flyers for 1st place
With two games remaining in the regular season, the 87's Premier team was right behind the first-place Philadelphia Little Flyers of the Mid-Atlantic Conference. They responded by sweeping the Philadelphia Revolution in a home-and-home set, defeating the Revolution 9-3 in Philadelphia and 6-1 in Middletown. Ending the regular season on a seven-game winning streak, New Jersey leaped past the Little Flyers for the number one seed in the conference, setting up a best-of-three series against the New Jersey Renegades.
"This team has battled all year, we had a great battle with the Little Flyers so it was only fitting that it came down to the last weekend to see what team would be on top in the end. We were able to take care of business and get the two points we needed to jump them and prepare for playoffs as a one seed," Houli said. "It was an awesome effort by our guys, awesome effort all year and hopefully we get over the hump of getting to Providence and being a champion."
In the regular season, the 87's Premier team had a perfect 8-0-0 record against the Renegades, outscoring them by a total margin of 60-15. This will be the first time the Garden State rivals will face each other in the postseason, and the winner of that series will head to Providence for the EHLP Frozen Finals.
EHL squad enjoys bye week, prepares to face Jr. Flyers
For the second consecutive season, the 87's EHL team earned a bye week in the first round of the postseason. Last postseason the 87's went up against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. This year they will face the number six seed Philadelphia Jr. Flyers, after they upset the number three seed Connecticut RoughRiders in a two-game sweep.
The EHL team has a perfect 4-0-0 record against the Jr. Flyers, outscoring the team by a margin of 19-4 in that span. Similar to the Premier team, they'll need to win two games in a best-of-three series to advance to Providence.
Sunday Mar 15: vs. Philadelphia Jr. Flyers - 3:45 p.m.
Tuesday Mar 17: at Philadelphia Jr. Flyers - 12:00 p.m.
*Wednesday Mar 18: vs. Philadelphia Jr. Flyers - 1:00 p.m.
Wednesday Mar 11: vs. New Jersey Renegades - 7:45 p.m.
Friday Mar 13: at New Jersey Renegades - 8:00 p.m.
*Sunday Mar 15: vs. New Jersey Renegades - 7:15 p.m.
* If necessary
Junior hockey is known to provide an opportunity for players to branch out from their hometown and explore new places throughout the season. For the New Jersey 87's, that includes several players moving up to 3,000 miles from home to play hockey in the Garden State.
This season the New Jersey 87's have six players whose hometowns are west of the Mississippi River, including three California natives (Justin Vickers, Dante Terramani and Dylan Gutierrez), Nevada native Jackson Oleson, Colorado native Tim DeBord and Illinois native Andrew Maynard.
What exactly made the 87's a hot spot for players on the West Coast? 87's head coach Adam Houli said it's no different than reaching out to players anywhere else in the country. The players he recruited just so happened to adapt to the 87's system while finding both individual and team-wide success. There is, however, an additional challenge to overcome especially as a franchise in its third year of operation.
"I think the kids from the West sometimes overlook the EHL, and it’s our job as coaches to expose them to our league and what we do so well," Houli said. "We have worked hard in identifying these players and thus have done well in the west market. We continue to believe they are a great market and look forward to establishing a consistent pipeline for players to play at the highest level."
Justin Vickers is in his second year with the 87's as a 21-year-old defenseman. Prior to that, the Murrieta, CA native played two seasons with the Colorado Springs Tigers in the North American Prospects Hockey League. He recalled Houli reaching out to him and inviting him to main camp in the summer of 2018, and spoke about his first impressions of playing in the Garden State.
“Right away just the team and atmosphere was a lot different than the teams I’ve been on previously. Very welcoming, inviting and being in the building, coming into camp with the NAHL team as well as the 87’s Premier team, they all carried themselves highly and performed well," Vickers said.
Tim DeBord played for the Colorado Thunderbirds of the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League and for Valor Christian High before joining the 87's alongside Vickers. The Parker, CO native also brought up the recruiting process and the lure of joining a team with a Tier II affiliate in the New Jersey Titans.
“One of my friends’ dad was watching me play out in Colorado for high school. He told Matty (Kiernan) to watch one of my games, and Matt called me after that to come to the main camp here. I ended up on the team after that.” DeBord said. “It was a very new horizon for me, talking to NAHL teams, as playing in the NAHL is my hopes and dreams. After I realized the 87’s could help me get there, I felt that I had to stay there.”
The benefits extend off the ice as well. Maynard is from Naperville, IL, a suburb outside of Chicago. The second-year forward and leading scorer of the 87's compares Middletown's proximity with New York City to Naperville and Chicago. “It’s not too different, I could go to Chicago whenever I want back in Naperville. I can go to New York City whenever I want, if I wanted to head to the city and do some cool things there," Maynard said.
Vickers, DeBord and Maynard all played big roles in the 87's inaugural season in the Eastern Hockey League, as the team finished with a record of 33-11-1. Their success became known throughout the hockey community, and led to an additional trio of West Coast natives joining the team.
Two of those players include defenseman Dylan Gutierrez and forward Dante Terramani. Gutierrez, a native of Santa Ana, read a feature about the 87's in California Rubber Magazine and looked into it from there.
“At first I thought I was going to see myself playing somewhere else, not going to the East Coast. Then I contacted (Adam) Houli, came out here and I ended up loving it, so it worked out perfectly," Gutierrez said. “I looked into them and I wanted to come skate, then after I skated at the end of the year I was talking to Dante and I just told him all about it. He ended up liking it a lot, so that’s how we both came out here.”
Terramani added that he and Gutierrez have played hockey together in Bantam, and their companionship has made their rookie season with the 87's a seamless transition. “Ever since training camp we’ve been together. We’re roommates, we travel everywhere together, car pool and also room together so it’s really great," Terramani said. "It's always great making connections with other players in California, knowing other teams back in the West Coast, also knowing each other and building our relationships.”
Jackson Oleson, meanwhile, saw the 87’s success first-hand. The Stateline, NV native spent the 2018-19 season with the New Jersey Titans’ 18U team. This year he played short stints in the North American Hockey League and the Manitoba Junior Hockey League before coming back to New Jersey to play for the 87’s.
“I had many conversations with Houli over the course of last summer and this season to recruit me and play for them,” Oleson said. “I have really enjoyed my first two months here, I have really gotten to know the boys well and think we all have good team chemistry on and off the ice.”
Moving thousands of miles away from home is never an easy task, and the 87's transplants were no exception. Vickers, Gutierrez and Terramani all agreed that the frigid climate in New Jersey was a dramatic change from the toasty winters in California.
“Lots of layers. A lot of layers and definitely not shorts and sandals," Gutierrez said when asked about winter in New Jersey. "My parents send me a ton of coats, but they don’t work because they’re too thin.”
Maynard is no stranger to the cold weather, but the culinary aspect of New Jersey proved to be a challenge for the current Tufts commit. "Deep dish pizza is far superior than the cardboard out here in the East Coast," he said.
Meanwhile DeBord holds that Colorado is the nicer state, but admits the shores in New Jersey is a plus. "The beach is amazing especially in the early months of the season," he said.
Despite the differences, all of the players agreed that moving to New Jersey and playing with the 87's have provided great benefits both on and off the ice. Terramani spoke about the difference in style of play and how the 87's organization gave him the resources to improve his game.
"It’s a different pace of hockey, a lot more exposure out here, the lifestyle is definitely different, and it’s just a great atmosphere here," he said. "It’s just more hockey focused, hockey driven, school’s not in the picture right now so everything is focused on hockey, bettering the team and bettering your play on the ice.”
For Maynard, the adjustment period took longer than the other players, but his feelings toward the Garden State took a turn for the better by his second season with the 87's.
“It’s really been a life-changing experience. I initially got out here on the East Coast, I hated it. I hated the East Coast, I thought the people weren’t nice, I thought everything was bad, but after these two years I’m contemplating spending my life out here. I love all the stuff that’s going on and all of the cities and the exposure," Maynard said. “The turning point was arriving back for my second season here. I knew a lot of people and I loved all the friends I made, the coaching staff out here, everyone’s actually pretty cool when you get to know them.”
When asked to provide advice for players thinking about moving east to play for a team like the 87's, DeBord spoke about the team's ability to provide upward mobility for the players.
“I’d say do it, there aren’t a lot of better places to go to, because you have a NAHL team in the building, the travel isn’t bad and it’s much better if you’re playing Tier III just to go to a place where you’ll know that you will succeed," he said.
Vickers, who worked his way up the depth chart on defense over the last two seasons that culminated in a commitment to Stevenson University, said the experience alone is worth it.
“Get out, talk to people and go visit places because you never know what’s out there," he said.