For Castle Pines native, LHA, T-Birds grad Branish, EHL proving to be right fit for development
TJ Branish grew up playing for the Littleton Hockey Association and Colorado Thunderbirds, but after aging out of youth hockey at the end of the 2020-21 season, the Castle Pines native wanted to look at his junior hockey options.
Branish found the right fit, going out east this season to play for the Eastern Hockey League’s New Jersey 87’s.
“After last season, I needed somewhere to play and reached out to a couple coaches,” Branish said. “(New Jersey) coach (Adam) Houli and I got in contact and told me about the program. I knew immediately it was the place I wanted to play hockey this upcoming season because of the past success the team has had and the players they’ve moved on to college.
“The team has had a lot of success and has been a powerhouse in the South Division for years. They’ve moved many players onto college hockey, and the league does a great job of providing a great platform for players to showcase themselves and get in front of coaches.”
So far this season, the 87’s are 8-8-2, tied for second place in the division.
Individually, Branish has posted two goals and seven points in 17 games going into the upcoming weekend. He was also named to the roster for the EHL All-Star Classic event that takes place November 21-22 at the Ice Den Arena in Hooksett, N.H.
“The first part of the season has been pretty good so far,” said Branish. “The team has come together, and I think we have a great group. Everyone on the team has the same goal and when we all push in the same direction, we are a scary team to play. Being named an all-star is an honor and something I’ve worked very hard for. It’s nice to get the recognition from people throughout the league, but the main goal is team success for me and for everyone.”
During his childhood, Branish said he got into hockey from watching his father’s men’s league games and watching the Colorado Avalanche games with him.
“I’m born and raised in Colorado and consider myself a diehard Avs fan,” said Branish. “I love watching the games with my family.”
Branish played nine years for the Hawks and his last five years for the Thunderbirds.
“I’ve had many great coaches throughout the years playing for these great programs, but Phil Patenaude and Kelly Hollingshead are two of my coaches that helped me get to where I am today,” said Branish. “They both taught me a lot about not only being a great hockey player but a great person. I really appreciate all the time and effort every coach I’ve had has given to my teams and wouldn’t be here without every single one of them.
“My favorite memory from youth hockey was my bus trip Squirt year to Saskatchewan. That was my first experience of a bus trip and my first time going into Canada. Something I’ll never forget.”
Looking ahead, Branish has his eye on dreams he is chasing, on and off the ice.
“My goal for hockey has always been to take it as far as I can,” Branish said. “Currently, I’m looking for a college commitment, trying to find the right school for me. I’ve always wanted to play college hockey so that’s been a goal of mine for a while.
“Hockey’s taught me a lot about life and responsibilities. I want to get my degree and find a place where I enjoy what I do. I’d also love to one day have a family of my own with kids hopefully playing hockey.”
Photo/Dan Hickling/Hickling Images
— Matt Mackinder
(November 10, 2021)