Owner's Overview: Summing it up
April 19, 2012
Lumberjacks owner/GM Josh Mervis sat down with hockey writer Ron Rop to describe the ups and downs of the 2011-12 season, and how the team is already looking forward to the future
Muskegon Lumberjacks Owner/General Manager Josh Mervis sat down with freelance hockey writer Ron Rop and answered some questions regarding the Lumberjacks’ recently completed season and the upcoming 2012-13 USHL campaign.
Ron Rop: It was difficult for the Muskegon Lumberjacks in their second season in the United States Hockey League. What, specifically, went wrong this season?
Josh Mervis: After camp last June we had no fewer than five players move up or leave unexpectedly. For some, like John Parker and Casey Thrush, we completely supported their decision (even though it created challenging consequences for the team) because they were ready to move up.
Others left for other reasons. Our No. 1 goalie didn’t want to do the work he needed to do in order to get eligible for college, and there were a couple of guys who weren’t ready for college hockey yet like Mike Conderman, who only played 6 games and basically had a “lost season,” and Charlie Taft, who played something like 12 games. To me that is a waste of a year, hockey-wise, for him.
Those moves created big holes on our team, on the ice, where you can’t simply replace an “A” player who moves on late in the summer. It left huge craters in our locker room because of their leadership abilities. So we started the year with a talent deficiency and a leadership deficit. Suddenly we became a very young team, the youngest in the USHL for the second year in a row, and that makes it things harder.
And we also had to scramble to solidify our goaltending. We had to “steal from Peter to pay Paul,” trading a very good defenseman in Kevin Schulze to get a good goalie in John Keeney. Then because we had a leadership vacuum, with a very young team, we had some issues with our discipline and commitment to excellence. From there, things spiraled down to a point where we had to remove a number of players, our leading scorer being one of them, and our third-leading scorer at the time, along with some valuable depth players.
In those difficult circumstances, we had to make a coaching change, difficult as it was, to restore discipline and re-affirm our organizational ethos of competitiveness. Luckily for us, Head Coach Jim McKenzie and Ron Mason came in and were able to put us back on the right track. But in all honesty, by then we simply didn’t have enough “shells in the gun” or time on the clock to win enough games in a row to get back into the playoffs.
The key is that now we’re on the right track and we’ve built the momentum needed to take us through the offseason and into next year on a positive.
RR: What steps are being taken, or will be taken, in the coming months to put the Lumberjacks in a position to make drastic on-ice improvements for the 2012-13 campaign?
JM: We are out scouting, scouring the globe to have a great draft and rebuild the team. For the returners, Assistant Coach Dave Noel-Bernier has a very difficult and demanding off-season strength training program. We expect our players to come back in better shape than they have been in their lives. So we are going to upgrade our talent and we are going to improve our returning players’ physical abilities. It is going to be a summer of hard work for all of us. This was unacceptable.
RR: How much player turnover to do expect for next season? Are there steps that can be taken to make the Lumberjacks an older, more experienced team over the course of one summer?
JM: Every year you will have big turnover in the USHL, the league is that good. It is the No. 1 developer of talent for the NCAA and it is a huge pipeline of NHL draft choices, so we have turnover. That’s part of the point of the USHL. We develop players and move them up.
RR: Season ticket prices have been reduced to $200 for next season. Is there anything else in the works to draw more spectators to Lumberjacks' games?
RR: Kevin Patrick was let go as the coach and Jim McKenzie was brought in. How would you evaluate the team's performance since McKenzie took over?
JM: I liked the way we played after the change. We were competitive in almost every game and played hard and smart. We cut penalties down and played with discipline. We are excited about our coaching staff and the work they did.
Ron Rop is a freelance writer who covered Muskegon hockey for more than 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.