Get inside the Lumberjacks draft room
May 23, 2012
Sportswriter Ron Rop had a prime seat for all the discussion and debate as Muskegon added 17 players through the USHL Entry Draft. Find out what he saw and heard on a critical night in team history!
by Ron Rop
Muskegon Lumberjacks assistant coach Dave Noel-Bernier got a good night’s sleep on the eve of the 2012 USHL Entry Draft.
There was no tossing and turning. No hashing and rehashing names that he and the other members of the Lumberjacks coaching staff have been looking at for the past five months.
Instead, he got a restful night of sleep.
“We’ve done the work and we’re ready,” Noel-Bernier said prior to the draft. “And when you’re ready, you can sleep at night.”
By the sounds of it, the Lumberjacks top brass were pleased with the results of Tuesday’s 4 ½ hour draft.
The goal was to become bigger, faster, strong and older heading into the team’s tryout camp, which is scheduled for June 11-16 at L.C. Walker Arena.
“In the first part of the draft you get as many players as you can that will help right away next season,” Noel-Bernier said. “After those needs are met, you look for guys who can come to camp and possibly make the team or you put them on your Affiliate List.”
Over the course of the draft, the Lumberjacks selected 17 players. They drafted some goal-scoring forwards, some large defensemen and one goaltender.
It’s all part of piecing together a rather complicated puzzle. League rules dictate how many older players each team can have their roster. Then you factor in who is returning from last year’s team and where those players are slotted on the depth chart.
Muskegon filled two needs right off the bat with the No. 2 and No. 3 overall picks. Boston College signee Adam Gilmour, a right winger who is expected to be a key contributor next season, was the second pick. The third pick was Connor Hurley, a gifted high school player from Edina, Minn.
Sioux Falls, which held the first overall pick, did not cause any early adjustments to the Jacks’ strategy.
That came later.
Along with the way, the Jacks continually adjusted their strategy. Last-minute phone calls were made. Texts were sent and received. There was plenty of discussion (at times a bit heated), but it was all done for one reason – to make the Muskegon Lumberjacks a highly competitive team for this upcoming season.
Muskegon finished a disappointing 15th overall in the 16-team league last season. The goal this time around was to do a 180-degree reversal over the course of just a few hours. It also was obvious that assistant coaches Steve Palmer and Noel-Bernier, along with scouts Charlie Link and Chris LaCombe had done their homework. They seemed to know something about nearly every drafted player.
“With the turnover in this league with so many players playing one year and leaving, this is a huge part of your season,” head coach Jim McKenzie said of the draft.
Five months of countless hours of scouting, recruiting, phone calls, e-mails and texts helped the coaching staff piece together several sheets of players they wanted to draft.
Of course, the wish list and the players actually taken can be quite different. And that became an issue later in the evening when it was evident the Jacks had scouted and recruited several players only to find they didn’t have enough draft picks to select them all.
Several times throughout the evening, the Lumberjacks have their sights set on a particular player only to see a rival team snag him.
Muskegon began the evening with 14 protected players. In the first phase of the draft, all USHL teams drafted until they had 23 players. Once all teams reached that mark, they continued until each had 30 players on their roster.
In the fourth round, the Lumberjacks addressed their need for bigger player by selecting Dan O’Keefe, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman. Later in the same round, they took Tyler Hill, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound left winger. Calumet’s Ben Storm, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound defenseman was chosen next.
Even the goalie, Warren’s Tyler Ross, is a big kid at 6-foot-3.
“We definitely got bigger, fast and smarter,” Noel-Bernier said. “We targeted size and hockey sense and we feel very happy about that. We got good speed and we’ve got lots of size.”
The Jacks were the youngest team in the league last season and did not match up well with several league opponents in the size department.
That should not be a problem this coming season.
“On the back end, we are extremely big,” Noel-Bernier said. “And we’ve got some good size up front and speed. It should be good.”
Just how good will begin to be seen when they head into town for the Jacks’ main camp.
“Our coaches have worked hard and we’ll see how good we did at camp in June,” Lumberjacks owner Josh Mervis said.
Ron Rop is a freelance writer who covered Muskegon hockey for more than 25 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.