The New Jersey Titans wrapped up its 2017 main camp on Sunday, a four-day affair that saw over 140 hockey players participate in off-ice workouts and scrimmages at the Middletown Sports Complex.
Head coach Craig Doremus said the decisions he had to make for the final roster were very difficult, a testament to the skill and compete level of the players trying out.
“The talent on display this weekend was incredible,” said Doremus. “Full credit to our coaches and scouting staff who put together such a competitive and high-level camp. There were a lot of good players and with that comes a lot of tough decisions.”
Amidst the players looking to crack a roster spot, the Titans saw returning players including Todd Goehring, Ryan Wheeler and Brandon Perrone among others. Doremus said he was pleased to see his veterans set the tone for the camp.
“I think these guys are extremely motivated and goal driven both from a team and individual standpoint,” he said. “The new guys look at the veteran players to see what they’re doing and ultimately try to emulate them.”
The players aren’t the only ones trying to emulate the Titans’ success. Staff members of the Titans affiliate squads, the Charlotte Rush and the New Jersey 87’s attended the camp to help the Titans’ staff with player evaluations and to have an opportunity to work with some of the players who were not selected for the North American League team.
Adam Houli, head coach of the 87’s, mentioned that he would like to replicate the Titans’ approach as his own team prepares for its inaugural season in Middletown.
“Craig and Bobby (DiRico) really do a tremendous job of everything from culture down to on-ice specifics, so for us, we want to mimic that and be successful with it,” Houli said.
In just the second season in New Jersey, and the first with Doremus at the helm, the Titans won its first playoff series by sweeping the Johnstown Tomahawks. However, they fell in the East Division Final against the Aston Rebels in a decisive Game 5. As the Titans look to make that next step to win the Robertson Cup, team owner George Haviland said that it starts with a good camp, and he thinks this weekend was a step in the right direction.
“I think the talent is by far the best we’ve had at a camp since we’ve had an (NAHL) team in New Jersey,” said Haviland. “For us, I think we need to add a little bit of grit and I think we brought in the appropriate players to add that level of compete that we need.”
Looking to add emphasis to strength and grit, the team held workout sessions in the team’s gym on the first day. The exercises included pull-ups, squats, bench presses and sprints on a treadmill.
Dan Malafronte, older brother of former Titan, Greg, was on hand to guide the players during the workout sessions. He said he was pleased with the players’ performance in the off-ice training.
“These boys were definitely working out over the summer. We had a lot of strong guys putting up very big numbers, and I was very impressed with the off-ice session,” Malafronte said.
Following the workout sessions were scrimmages. Eight teams played a total of four games between Thursday and Saturday before the rosters were narrowed down for the All-Star contests. Sunday featured a full-length game between two teams with the remaining players, and the final roster was finalized shortly after the game.
Defenseman Ryan Wheeler noted that while the veterans set the tone, the new players looking to crack the roster were equally impressive.
“I think all of the returners tried to set the pace, but the young guys were really fast too,” Wheeler said. “But I think leadership wise, we were able to make the guys feel comfortable while setting the pace for the camp.”
Jimmy Dowd Jr., a defenseman who was drafted in the 5th round this year by the Titans, said he learned quite a bit from the veteran players and that it helped him throughout the camp.
“It’s good to learn from the older guys. To play at a higher level and faster pace, it’s a matter of getting used to the game at the NAHL level.”
With the final roster in place, the Titans will prepare for the 2017-2018 campaign with a training camp in late August, while the regular season begins on September 15.
At the conclusion of the camp, Doremus said it was a step in the right direction as the Titans look to get out of their division on top and win its first Robertson Cup.
“Our players are hungry and eager to get back to the playoffs, and hopefully we’ll be on the other side of that Game 5 decision,” he said. “Our goal is to win our first ever Robertson Cup and bring it down Route 35 to Middletown.”