By Steve Stein
Competition and camaraderie are the main focuses of the New Jersey Titans’ preseason camp as they prepare for the North American Hockey League season.
“We make it clear to our players from Day 1 of the camp that they’re competing for a limited number of spots on the team,” said Titans head coach Craig Doremus.
That’s the serious part of camp. So are the two-a-day practices five days a week.
Then there are the team-building activities, like a scavenger hunt that sent seven groups of players across New Jersey looking for items.
There is also the annual Titan Day, an outdoor pool party for the entire Titans hockey organization. That also features a not-so-competitive scrimmage game with teams made up of players from the Titans’ NAHL and midget squads.
Camp also included a community service day with players working in concession stands during a Lakewood BlueClaws minor league baseball game at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood Township, N.J.
Doremus said the team-building activities are important.
“You need that foundation before you get to the X’s and O’s,” he said.
Twenty-eight players – 16 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies – are in the Titans’ camp. A league rule requires rosters to be cut to 23 by Oct. 5.
Only three of the 16 forwards and one of the three goalies are returning to theTitans from last year, but six of the nine defensemen are back.
“We’re deep and talented, and we have some special athletes on our blue line,” Doremus said.
Three of the special defensemen are returnees – Ryan Wheeler (‘97) and Tyler Antonucci (‘97) and Penn State University commit Jim Dowd (‘00). Jim is son of the former NHL player of the same name from Brick, N.J., who helped the New Jersey Devils win the 1995 Stanley Cup.
Antonucci is a solid 6-foot, 205-pounder from Saddle Brook, N.J., who is hoping for Division 1 college offers during his final season of junior hockey eligibility.
“They have a family culture and a good fan base,” Antonucci said. “There was a lot of energy in our building last year, especially during the playoffs.”
Antonucci agrees with his coach about the team’s veteran defensive corps.
“The guys know the league, and know what it takes to win in the league,” he said.
Nick Yzaguirre (‘97) and Jack Sampson (‘98) are among the Titans’ top forwards.
Exhibition games include Sept. 6 at home against the Walpole Express from the Eastern Hockey League; and on the road Sept. 9 against the NAHL’s Philadelphia Rebels.
These precede the Titans’ NAHL home-and-home season openers Sept. 15-16 vs. the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights.