The New Jersey 87's started the 2019-20 season, its third as an organization, and won three out of five games between the EHL and Premier teams.
EHL team sweeps first weekend before falling to RoughRiders
The EHL team opened the season on Sept. 14 in a road game against New York Applecore. Matthew Bielinski, who was acquired in the offseason from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights, netted a pair of goals in the second period to give the 87's a 2-0 lead. Applecore scored early in the third period to cut the deficit, but Dante Terramani scored his first goal as an 87 to replenish the two-goal lead. New York scored again to make it 3-2, but Bielinski responded by completing the hat trick at 14:21 of the third period. Brad Heuer scored an empty-net goal with two seconds left in the game to seal the 5-2 win. Jon Kopack made 16 saves in the team's first win of the season.
The following day the 87's returned to Middletown Sports Complex for its home opener against the North Carolina Golden Bears. Johnny Jackson scored two of the team's first three goals as the 87's cruised to a 9-1 victory. Defensemen George Weiner (1g, 2a) and Justin Vickers (3a) each recorded three points in the victory while Tanner Beals made 11 saves to earn the win.
"It was a good start to the year, obviously we had a long training camp and to come out of the weekend with four points is exactly what we wanted to do," said head coach Adam Houli.
He also spoke about Bielinski, who notched three goals and two assists in his first two games with the team. He played the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights last year, as a part of the team that defeated New Jersey en route to the EHL Frozen Finals in Providence, Rhode Island.
"Bielinski played really well, he was a guy that beat us last year so we got him to come join us this year, so it was good to see those guys play well," Houli added.
The following week, the 87's hit the road to Connecticut and faced the RoughRiders in their home-opener. Justin Vickers opened the scoring early in the first period, but Connecticut responded with three unanswered goals. Johnny Jackson had a goal taken away for leaving the penalty box too early, and a third-period goal by Tim DeBord was quickly answered with two more goals by the RoughRiders. With a 5-2 defeat, the 87's suffered its first loss of the season.
Premier falls just short of comeback vs. Little Flyers, defeats Bridgemen
The Premier team opened their season against the squad that eliminated them in the 2019 playoffs, the Philadelphia Little Flyers. New Jersey fell behind 3-0 midway through the second period, but last year's leading scorer Tom Swartwout struck late in the second period to put the 87's on the board. Philadelphia scored again to make it 4-1 early in the third period, but Swartwout scored two more goals to complete the hat trick and cut the deficit to one. It was as close the 87's would get to comeback, however, as the Flyers held onto the lead and walked away with a 4-3 win.
On Sunday, the Premier team followed the EHL squad with their home opener against the New York Bridgemen, an expansion team playing in its first-ever game. George Fomin recorded the first goal in the team's history at 2:50 of the first period, but the 87's stormed back and came out on top. Ryan Crane netted two goals while Dante Balsamo recorded a goal and an assist. Swartwout completed his stellar weekend with his fourth goal of the season, and Jeremy Connor earned the win as he came in relief during the second period.
"Those guys have been battling for two weeks. The Little Flyers are always good, it's been a really good rivalry with them, and for us it's just about battling and getting better, and I thought we did that," Houli said about the Premier team. "We grew a lot, we came back and showed that we have resiliency and then we get two points against the Bridgemen."
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