MUSKEGON, MI – Following a record-setting 2018-19 season, the Muskegon Lumberjacks have been named the USHL’s Organization of the Year.
“The league is thrilled to announce the Muskegon Lumberjacks as the Organization of the Year,” said USHL Commissioner Tom Garrity. “The commitment by owners Dan Israel and Bob Kaiser, combined with fantastic leadership from Mike McCall and his staff earned this award, and it is well deserved.”
Muskegon earns the honor for the first time in franchise history on the heels of arguably the team’s best season since joining the USHL nine years ago.
The 2018-19 off-season began with extensive renovations to L.C. Walker Arena, a building that would be at its peak attendance since the Jacks began playing in the USHL in 2010. Almost 90,000 fans watched the Lumberjacks play home games, topping the team’s previous best by nearly 20 percent.
Out of the 17 teams that competed in the USHL, Muskegon finished fifth in attendance, placing them inside the top ten for the first time in team history.
On the ice, the Jacks set records for wins and points, earning a one seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time in team history. The Jacks racked up a team-record 228 goals under first-year head coach Mike Hamilton, who led Muskegon to the Conference Finals in his rookie campaign. Coach Hamilton led the team to its best start ever, winning the first eight games of the season. It was the team’s longest winning streak in franchise history.
Defenseman Alex Yakovenko scored more goals (19) and more points (52) in a single season than any other Lumberjack d-man ever. Yakovenko was named first-team All-USHL and won USHL defenseman of the week three times.
Goaltender Brandon Bussi won 33 games in net, leading the USHL in wins and breaking Eric Schierhorn’s team record for wins in a season. Bussi’s seven shutouts also led the league and were just one shy of another team record.
2018-19 was also President Mike McCall’s first year with the team. “Our mission is to become the best junior hockey organization in the world,” said McCall. “This year, we took a big step in that direction.”
“I really believe it’s a combination of things; the commitment of ownership, the performance of the team, and the new strategy and efforts of the front office staff. We also have to give the City of Muskegon a lot of credit; they were a visionary with the renovations to the arena and, because of that, we were able to allow all types of sports fans to enjoy the great game of hockey.”
Muskegon was named Organization of the Year through a voting process that all 17 USHL teams were involved in, and McCall recognized what an honor it is.
“This award speaks for itself. When we are acknowledged by the entire league, and there are so many deserving teams, it is quite an honor. When your peers recognize you, it says a lot, we are looking forward to next season which we believe will be another outstanding one for the organization.”
The City of Muskegon has been a strong partner with the team for many years and City Manager Frank Peterson felt that this year was a special one.
“Obviously the renovations made the arena feel more welcoming and absolutely helped engage the fans,” said Peterson. “I really feel like it was more inviting for everyone: die-hard hockey fans, casual hockey fans, and even those who may have never been to a game before. That really helped people get in the door, and the team did a good job coming out strong and creating a buzz in the community.”
Peterson played a major role in the arena’s renovations, but also tipped his cap to owners Dan Israel and Bob Kaiser.
“We are grateful to see the commitment from ownership,” said Peterson. “They have invested in top-level coaching and management, and have brought in the world’s best players to the arena. I haven’t seen any other ownership group this committed and it bodes well for both the Downtown resurgence and the community.”
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