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The CBA hockey connection

Kyle Shapiro and Colin Grable were decorated hockey players at Christian Brothers Academy a decade apart. Shapiro, a star goaltender, was a member of the Colts’ team that made the state championship game in 2009 and graduated from the school in 2011.  

After he was no longer a player, Shapiro kept tabs on the Colts and watched as Grable, the son of one of his assistant coaches at CBA, won a state championship in 2020 and blossomed into one of the best defensemen at the Shore.  

Despite the shared connection, the two never had a chance to build a relationship. That was until this past year, when Shapiro, now an assistant coach, and Grable, a rookie defenseman, were crucial components for the New Jersey Titans, a team in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), the second-tier of American junior hockey, that won the Robertson Cup, the league’s championship.  

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‘We did it’

The NAHL is a breeding ground for college hockey players and the experience was nothing like Grable had ever seen before. He said his debut season with the Titans “felt like it took two years.” However, it was all worth it when New Jersey won the league’s ultimate prize.  

Grable, 19, said he will remember telling fellow defenseman David Posma “we did it” in the final minutes of the Titans’ 3-0 win over the Anchorage Wolverines in the championship game of the Robertson Cup on May 24.  

 “We’ve talked about it for so long, we’ve dreamed about it, we manifested it and realizing you’ve done it, it’s hard to explain feelings,” Grable said. “You have so much joy and you’re just overwhelmed with emotions, and you just try to stay in the moment and embrace it all, because it all goes by so quick.”  

The Titans are based out of Middletown and joined the NAHL in 2015, the first year the league offered an East Division. Before the Titans won the title this year, no team from the division had lifted the Robertson Cup.  

“It’s just phenomenal to see what we’re able to accomplish. But for us as an organization, it’s about giving guys from New Jersey opportunities to play on this team, like Colin Grable,” said Titans’ President and Director of Player Personnel George Haviland.

Grable joined the Titans under-16 team for the 2019-20 season with the hope of working his way up to the NAHL team. In an extremely competitive environment, Grable showed his attributes and was one of only two players to be promoted from the youth organization to the NAHL team.  

“It was a pretty easy choice with Colin,” said Shapiro, who said he has only grown closer to Grable since the decision to call him up. “Colin’s a talented right shot defenseman who reminds of some people that we used to have in the building earlier. And it was a pretty easy decision, recruiting and making sure he was a part of our hockey team this year because he has so many intangibles on and off the ice.” 

Grable stepped into a role right away with the Titans, playing 50 regular season games for one of the NAHL’s most effective defensive units and contributing 10 points on the offensive end. 

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Growing pains

“Once you get there, it’s just a rewarding feeling. You can’t just be satisfied there. … It’s not just about being there. It’s about what you can do with it,” Grable said.  

Although the 6-foot, 175-pound defenseman impressed, he did have his growing pains adjusting to the new level of hockey.  

“I think that’s going to happen with just about anybody,” explained Shapiro, who has been an assistant with the Titans since 2019. “I think with the hockey team we had earlier, we asked Colin to do probably more than we should have, and it was probably our fault. We probably put him in a tougher spot early on in the year, but he stepped up big for us and kept us afloat early on.”  

As the Titans got better, so did Grable’s performances, and the team finished first in the division and tied for second best in the NAHL with 85 points.  

 However, Grable’s best hockey was saved for the playoffs.  

The 19-year-old looked perfectly in place when it mattered most, playing standout hockey in the Titans’ 13-game Robertson Cup run. 

“Colin has grown so much as a player on the ice and it was on display [in the playoffs],” General Manager and Head Coach Craig Doremus said glowingly. “I can’t tell you how many calls I got from college coaches regarding his compete level, his ability to be nasty, and combining that with his puck moving ability and how much he competes and cares, he was an animal this past week on a huge stage as a rookie.” 

Grable’s future is bright and while he is taking time to rejoice in the championship, the CBA alum has one focus: another ring.

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“You got to get your last couple moments with the teammates, celebrate it because we worked 9, 10 months for this, you got to be able to enjoy it obviously, which we always talk about,” Grable said. “But after that, getting to work in the summer and trying to better myself, get ready for next fall because we want to run it back.” 

Intern Shaun Chornobroff is a rising senior at Rider University.

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