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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Muskegon had stability in 2010-2011

Muskegon Lumberjacks
owner Josh Mervis knows the stability is the key to developing both players and a premier hockey franchise.

And the Jacks stuck to that core philosophy this season. While they achieved massive success in their inaugural United States Hockey League season, they used very few transactions to do so.

The Jacks traded just two of the players who were on the team’s opening-day 23-man roster. Only the defending Clark Cup champion Green Bay Gamblers, who made no trades, had fewer transactions.

“If you look at the 25-man roster we assembled after camp on July 1, and our 23-man roster on Oct. 1, and then look at our playoff roster, it didn’t vary much,” Lumberjacks head coach Kevin Patrick says. “We want to be the team in this league that makes the fewest transactions, if possible. The biggest thing we talk about here is building a team and developing players. We’ll make moves when it’s appropriate and when it’s in the best interest of the team. Making moves just to make moves and change the roster is not part of our philosophy.”

“I refuse to trade high school-age players – it goes against my grain as a parent,” Mervis says. “Our mantra is, ‘If you do your job as a player and work hard, you will stay here and develop.’ We never forget that our players are someone’s children. This team isn’t a meat market like so many other junior teams. That’s why so many of the truly elite young players and their families want to play in Muskegon.”

With the renovations at the L.C. Walker Arena last offseason, Jacks players enjoy one-stop-shopping for their development. They have a National Hockey League-worthy locker room, a complete weight-training facility and a state-of-the-art players lounge. They play for one of the brightest young minds in hockey in Patrick and have a certified strength trainer in assistant coach Dave Noel-Bernier. But, while the Jacks’ brass takes immense pride specifically in its hockey operations, they also know there’s a lot more that goes into giving a player the best experience possible.

“Players wanting to return is a credit to our organization, the city of Muskegon, the billet families and the whole program we’ve put together,” Patrick said. “The Lumberjacks program will help them develop and reach their goals. You have to be excited about where you are and who you’re with in order to reach those goals. You can believe in the development, but if you’re not excited about your surroundings, you’ll struggle.”

While 14 of the 23 members of the Jacks’ final roster had already committed to Division-I universities, several of their other skaters have garnered the attention of premier colleges. Patrick is elated that, while those players mull their options, they’d be more than happy to keep developing in Muskegon should the time not be right to move on to collegiate and professional hockey.

While being one of the last five teams standing in the Clark Cup playoffs is a tremendous achievement for an expansion franchise, there is no time for rest for Patrick and Noel-Bernier. They scouted the USHL Combine last weekend in Chicago, where every USHL team was represented. They could potentially be in Topeka, Kan., for a similar North American Hockey League event this week before heading to Taylor for the Michigan District USA Hockey Select tryouts. With the assistance of the team’s prestigious scouting staff, the organization long has been building its big board for the USHL Entry Draft, which is Monday, May 16 at 11 a.m.

Once again, the Jacks will look for the fastest skaters, the heaviest hitters and the best hands around. But first and foremost, they’ll be looking beyond what’s visible on the ice.

“We like to think we’re doing our work up front to find the players who fit in the Lumberjacks’ style and system,” Patrick said. “You build with character and work ethic. That’s got to be the foundation. Then you look at skills. All those things have to come together.”

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