There is an old adage in youth hockey regarding the development of players throughout their career: It is a marathon and not a sprint.
Some players start out of the gate fast and change when they hit Bantam or higher levels while the invert also is true – some players take longer to develop and then take off when they do.
The same adage can be applicable to the 2021-22 New Jersey Titans. As the Red Buckets prepare for their first ever North American Hockey League (NAHL) Robertson Cup national championship tonight at 8:00PM ET against the Anchorage Wolverines, the team struggled out of the gate, had to make personnel changes, and flourished down the stretch during the regular season to win their first ever East Division Championship. The same circumstances have occurred during their run to the Robertson Cup finals.
Main/Training Camps and Season Opener
When the Titans concluded main camp back on July 29, 2021, the team brought approximately 35 players to its training camp that was set to begin at the end of August with the season opener slated for a two-game series on the road against the Maryland Black Bears. The Titans split that series. They were shutout 5 – 0 on opening night but needed overtime to win the second game of the season 4 – 3.
NAHL Showcase. Andrew Takacs and Anthony Calafiore
The Titans then traveled to Blaine, MN in mid-September for league mandate NAHL Showcase and went 1 – 3 in four games, the worst record the Titans have recorded at the event during the team’s seven year history.
Upon the conclusion of the Showcase, the team kept one of its three goalies (Ben Charette) and brought in veteran netminder Andrew Takacs prior to the Jamestown Rebels series at the end of September. He was received in a trade with the North Iowa Bulls in exchange for a tender and fourth round draft pick. The Titans swept that series with Takacs between the pipes, and the Bowie, MD native became the workhorse of the team and the league. Takacs went onto play in 42 games (over two-thirds of the season’s 60 games) posting a 29-8-0-3 record with a 2.42 goals against average and .914 save percentage with three shutouts. He was second in the league overall with the most wins. Takacs has played in every game of the playoffs posting an 8 – 4 record with a 2.31 goals against average and .924 save percentage.
The Titans also brought back forward Anthony Calafiore from the United States Hockey League (USHL) that series. Last season, the Staten Island, NY native had 33 total points (17 goals and 16 assists) in 49 games. During that Rebels series, he had four points (all assists). When the regular season ended, Calafiore was second on the team with 59 total points (26 goals and 33 assists), and he was the team’s leading goal scorer (26). He has eight points (4 goals and 8 assists) in twelve playoff games, including the game tying goal with 1:30 remaining in regulation of the third and deciding game in the Robertson Cup semi-finals to force overtime.
Home Opener, Johnstown Series and David Posma
The Titans lost their home opener 3 – 2 to the Black Bears. The following weekend at home brought in more changes. The Red Buckets faced the perennial powerhouse Johnstown Tomahawks for a two-game series. The first game of the series the Titans were humiliated 7 – 1 but won the second game 3 – 1. David Posma then returned from the USHL. The Ponoma, NY native had eleven points (2 goals and 9 assists) during the 2020-21 season. When Posma returned for the remainder of this season, he had 40 points (11 goals and 29 assists) in 42 games. He also led the league in plus/minus with a +43.
Back on November 15, head coach and general manager Craig Doremus had to make one of the hardest decisions of his Titans tenure. He traded lifelong Titan Jake LaRusso to the North Iowa Bulls for forwards Chris Carroll and Ryan Coughlin.
LaRusso, a Colts Neck, NJ native, grew up in the Titans youth organization, and was a member of the NAHL Titans for three seasons compiling excellent numbers. But in order to get something, you have to give up something thereby bringing in two seasoned players that added more depth to the team. Carroll ended up tied for second on the team with 59 total points (14 goals and 45 assists) in 52 games. He led the team in assists (45). Coughlin had 45 total points (16 goals and 29 assists) in 55 games and has added some heroics in the playoffs (more on that later).
January 25 against Maryland
The Titans, fresh off a two-game road split with Maryland to start the new calendar year, entered the mid-week game leading the East Division and second place Black Bears by four points. Again, it didn’t start well. Maryland jumped out to a 5 – 2 lead midway through the second period. After Blake Farrell made it 5 – 3, Carroll and Calafiore score to tie the game, then Calafiore completed his hat trick by scoring with 1:25 remaining in the game to give the Titans a 6 – 5 win.
The Titans traded their 2023 first round draft pick to the Shreveport Mudbugs for veteran forward Billy Feczko. A member of the Mudbugs 2020-21 Robertson Cup champion team, the Palo Heights, IL native brought in much needed experience and depth to the team. He had 15 total points (4 goals and 11 assists) in 20 games for the Titans.
March 23, 2022
The Titans defeated the Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks 4 – 1 to clinch their first-ever NAHL East Division regular season championship.
The top seed Titans squared off against the fourth seed Northeast Generals in the East Division semi-finals. After losing the first game of the series, the Titans took the next two, including a 3 – 0 shutout by Takacs. Northeast won game four 4 – 2 but Coughlin scored at the buzzer in game 5 to give the Titans a 5 – 4 come from behind victory and advance to the East Division finals against the Jamestown Rebels.
After the Rebels defeated the Titans 6 – 2 in the series opener, the Titans won the next three games to advance. In the game clincher, Calafiore scored at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. Then captain Stephen Willey scored at 1:15 into the third overtime to send the Titans to the Robertson Cup final four.
After reseeding, the second seed Titans faced the third seed south division champions New Mexico Ice Wolves. After losing game one 3 – 1, the Titans won game two 3 – 2 when Levente Keresztes scored with 3:50 remaining in overtime to force a third and deciding game.
Trailing 3 -2 with 1:30 remaining in game three, it was Calafiore again who scored to tie the game and send it into overtime. Coughlin then put the Titans in the finals when he scored a powerplay goal with 7:05 remaining in double overtime to set up tonight’s championship game.
It has been a long season, but the Titans have been to prepared for this moment. “For us we made a huge commitment to invest in our off-ice programming for our Titans, Olympic athletes and professional athletes” stated Titans President George Haviland.
“We’ve invested into a concept of sports performance science lab on our site to complete with a strength and conditioning component, complete assessment area, physical therapy center, brain training through hand Eye coordination, vision training platform and more.
One of the most important components we have is the recovery lounge so players can recover to enable them to play at their top performance for longer periods of time and be able to execute the staffs plan. so far, it’s paying off exponentially. I’m excited to see what happens tomorrow. Regardless of the outcome I am incredibly proud of what this program and team has accomplished” concluded Haviland.
“I am so proud of our guys and excited for them to have an opportunity to play for the Robertson Cup tonight” said Doremus. “This is a special collection of young men who have represented our franchise so well. I can’t wait to take the ice with them tonight” concluded Doremus.