MIDDLETOWN Nearly two years ago, NJ Junior Titans Hockey Director George Haviland spoke with the Asbury Park Press at his newly minted Middletown Ice World facility about how Hurricane Sandy delayed the construction and grand opening of his 1,500-seat arena.
On Tuesday morning, the conversation continued as Haviland and the Junior Titans welcomed premiere junior hockey to the Garden State.
“It’s really exciting to finally have this group here,” said Haviland about the North American Hockey League (NAHL) affiliated Soo Eagles, who announced the franchise’s relocation to Monmouth County and re-branding as the NJ Titans on May 5. “Having a program of this caliber here is the reason we built this facility. It’s been a lot of work, but we knew that we could do it.”
“It’s going to be good for the game of hockey, not only in this area where we can provide local kids the opportunity to play hockey at the next level in their own back yard, but up and down the east coast as well.”
The Soo Eagles franchise, which has spent the last four seasons in Sault St. Marie, Michigan, made its move official on Tuesday with a press conference at its new home rink in Middletown, and spoke of the wonderful opportunity the Junior Titans and the Middletown community has provided them.
“With the community partners in Middletown, this unbelievable facility, the structure and professionalism of this Titans program, we know we’re walking into an incredible opportunity,” Principal Owner of the franchise Ron Lavin said. “All that coupled with over 400 families already involved with the program, I don’t like to use the term no-brainer, but we’re entering a phenomenal situation.”
In February, the NAHL launched an initiative for the league to create an eastern footprint, and shortly following that announcement, Lavin, who was faced with a loss of travel partners in Southern Michigan, was notified about this Middletown group seeking an NAHL franchise.
“I flew out here on Jan. 30 to meet the entire Titans staff and afterward I knew this could really work. On May 1 we put in for our relocation to Middletown, and partnership with the Titans, and we are beyond thrilled to be here.”
Founded in 1975, the NAHL is the oldest and largest junior hockey league in the United States (with a large concentration of teams in the central and southwestern US), and with a Tier II classification is one of the top junior hockey leagues in the country, with such notable alumni as Mike Modano, Pat Lafontaine, Doug Weight, Brian Rolston, Brian Rafalski, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop (who you can currently watch in the Stanley Cup Finals), and many more.
With the move made official, Lavin, Haviland, the Junior Titans organization, and the franchise’s Head Coach and General Manager Bruno Bragagnolo can focus on their ultimate goal of developing players to perform at the NCAA level.
“With my partner Bruno Bragagnolo, and the passion and dedication and love that we have for hockey, we’ve been able to fulfill our goal of giving kids an opportunity to play at the next level,” said Lavin, who has been with this franchise for six years. “That is our true motivation. Whether they’re from Michigan or New Jersey, or Alaska we want to provide kids an opportunity to work on their craft, and work on becoming adults, and hopefully have them move up to the Division I and Division III NCAA level.”
Bragagnolo, who has been coaching hockey at various levels for 35 years, also spoke of his team’s intentions of community involvement and service, which Middletown Mayor Stephanie C. Murray is excited about.
“Middletown is the 16th largest Municipality in New Jersey and the largest in Monmouth County, so I think it’s a natural home for an organization like this because we do reach so many people,” Murray said.
“Ice World and the Titans have always been such a great partner to our community, and I know this organization will be a tremendous source of pride and something wonderful to look forward to. It’s organization’s like this, who promote such community interest and involvement, that make a township special.”
More information on the NJ Titans’ NAHL affiliate, including how to become a host-family for rostered players moving from outside of our community, will be made available soon.
For Sponsorship opportunities with the NJ Titans contact Ken Scaggs at Ken@bcoremanagement.com
For employment or internship opportunities contact Deirdre Lopian at Deirdre@bcoremanagement.com