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Inside the 87 way: the creation of a team name and identity

By Anthony DiPaolo, 09/14/23, 2:00PM EDT


Since the team’s inception in 2017, the New Jersey 87’s made a name for itself in the Eastern Hockey League and the Premier Division. Whether it’s the unique, number-centric name, the on-ice success or its catchy slogan, the ’87 way’ has become a staple across the league and the junior hockey landscape.

But how exactly did the team come up with its name and logo?

The origin of the team dates back to 2016, a year before the 87’s had played their first game in the EHLP. Adam Houli and Matt Kiernan were coaching youth hockey together while balancing jobs in New York City.

Houli recalls taking the train every morning at 6:45 from Little Silver, starting an hour and 10-minute commute to Manhattan; then returning home around 7 or 8 p.m., depending on what train he was able to catch. With nearly three hours worth of commuting each day, Houli would spend that time texting or speaking with Kiernan about hockey.

“What I realized when I found more joy in those three hours of commuting than I did during the day, I knew I wanted to get into hockey full time,” Houli said. “I remember I was on the train up, talking on the phone with Matty, and he said ‘listen, if we can come up with something where I can leave what I do, I would do it in a heartbeat.’ And to me, someone who has been doing something for 20 years saying that, it immediately jumped my brain into the process of ‘okay, let’s try to do something.’”

With a plethora of successful youth hockey programs across the state, Houli and Kiernan immediately looked at the junior ranks, namely the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL) and the Eastern Hockey League. At that time, the New Jersey Rockets had left the EHL for the USPHL, leading Houli and Kiernan to believe they could fill that void in the EHL by bringing a team back into the Garden State.

From there, it was a matter of working out the logistics of building a team from scratch and joining the league as well as coming up with a name and logo.

“I give Matt kudos, he kind of let me run with it a little bit with the team name and stuff like that. He was more geared towards the numbers, what we could do to make sure it is viable. He let me handle the fun side of things, at least I call it the fun side of things,” Houli said.

For the team name, a few ideas were bounced around when Nick Rozak, a close friend of Houli, brought up the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League. Their name derived from the Canadian Centennial of 1967, which also happened to be the year the team was founded.

The uniqueness of a numbered-name and its historical connotations inspired Houli to do his own research on the Garden State.

“As soon as I heard that, I realized that’s what I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be different than a typical name. I wanted something to be catchy and different. Honestly, I just went on Wikipedia and typed in New Jersey and just went after the history of it to see if there was anything I liked,” Houli said. “I just happened to notice the number 1787 everywhere I looked, and it just kind of rolled from there.”

Basing the name off the year New Jersey ratified the United States Constitution to join the Union (December 18, 1787), Houli and Kiernan agreed on the New Jersey 87’s as the team name. The next step was designing the logo.

Houli had several ideas for the logo; he wanted to base it off the circular seal of New Jersey that is also featured on the state flag, as well as three stars to represent New Jersey being the third state to join the Union. He also took inspiration from the circular design Columbus Blue Jackets’ secondary logo featuring the cannon.

With these design elements in mind, Houli opened up Microsoft Paint and created the first iteration of the logo.

“It’s like your first-born, you see this image come out and you love it no matter what. I laugh at it now because I look at it and can’t believe I submitted it as an official piece of our business proposal, but we did it and we saw all the good things and didn’t see the negatives.”

It was Kiernan’s wife, Theresa, who provided a more neutral viewpoint and suggested they get outside help to design the logo. “You look at that first one now and it looks like my son, Hudson, drew it together for us,” Houli added.

After seeing a few design concepts, Houli had a different idea: he wanted to go for a shield look similar to the Florida Panthers’ logo. It eventually led to the current logo; a blue and gold shield with the state of New Jersey in the middle, three stars at the top and “87’s” at the forefront.

“I knew right away once I saw that logo, this was it. This is what we’re going to be and it was what you see today, it was perfect,” Houli said.

The secondary logos were next. One was a circular design based off the Garden State Parkway logo, with the state of New Jersey in the middle, three stars underneath “87’s” and the team's name inside a gold outline that circles the state. “If you look real closely, you can see that I free-handed some of it in Paint. It’s kind of funny, they left in some of the points I drew, but they took it and made it look much more professional,” Houli said.

The other logo took inspiration from the New Jersey Turnpike, having the letters N and J form a more rectangular pattern, with “Eighty Sevens” underneath.

For Houli, it seemed fitting to incorporate the highway logos since teams would take either the Turnpike or the Parkway to get to their home arena. All of the details were calculated to reinforce the history and features of the state; even the apostrophe in the primary logo points towards Central Jersey where the team plays.

Every year as more players come through the league, parents and coaches alike will ask Houli and Kiernan about the team’s name and logo. “Sometimes the parents love it; mom and dad may be into history and love the idea the team's name is built off of that,” Houli said.

When the New Jersey 87’s first hit the ice in 2017, the tagline was ‘the 87way.’ It was, and still is, posted on the team’s social media pages, referenced around the league as well as feature stories in numerous hockey publications. So, what exactly is the 87way?

“We really wanted to preach what we do. We talk about development, everybody uses the word ‘development,’ but we really wanted to live that way. We talk about the professional look both on and off the ice, and we really wanted to make sure that is what we do,” Houli said. “From the little details to the locker room, the apparel package. We really wanted to live by the idea of looking different, talking different, and we are different. And that’s kind of what the 87 way is built on, and that’s a big part of who we are.”

He continued, “It’s great because it’s that old saying that people say, and you’re seeing it now on shows like Hard Knocks, that ‘if you’re not talked about, you’re not doing something right.’ And people will mock the 87 way in a bad way or a good way, but that’s what it’s there for.”

The 87’s have backed up their identity of looking and talking different. In six years, the organization has brought in three championships: two at the EHLP level and one EHL title. In five EHL seasons, New Jersey has won 157 games while committing 50 players to collegiate programs. They also expanded into youth hockey, forming an 18u team to go with the junior programs.

For Houli and Kiernan, this is only the beginning. As the organization continues to grow, the unmistakable identity of the team remains true to its Garden State roots, and the 87 way will continue to make its mark in the youth and junior hockey landscape.

“It is different and we do take care of our guys in a different way, and it is essential to what we do,” Houli said. “I truly believe we live that every day.”