Special thanks to today’s interviewee, Josh Mevris he is Owner, CEO and General Manager of the United States Hockey League franchise the Muskegon Lumberjacks and kindly agreed to put up with my questions and spend some of his time telling the world about an organization he is very proud to be part of.

 

What should fans know about you both as a person and a businessman?

 Jm: That I care deeply for the players, the fans who support us, and our staff. This is a labor of love for me, and I’m deeply passionate about it. I love the league, and I believe in the mission of the league.

What was the decision path that led you to purchasing a USHL team instead of say an OHL team, or NAHL franchise?

JM; I’ve been in junior hockey for the past 16 years, first as an asst coach, then a Head Coach, then as a Team President, and now an Owner – I’ve been a part of a NAHL team, and was thrilled to move that team up into the USHL. The CHL is a great league, I respect it very much, and I’m very impressed with how many of its teams operate, we can learn a great deal from them, however – I believe in what we’re doing, and at this point in time – my immediate future is in the USHL.

Why should young hockey players choose the USHL over other options?

JM: Look at the success of the players who have played in the USHL. Look at how prepared they are at the next level, and look at how many NHL’ers we’ve developed in a very, very short time (the modern USHL). In the USHL you keep your options OPEN, you can turn pro at 18, or you can stay an amateur and take all the time you need to develop – and you can get an education at the same time. You get drafted in the USHL – if you’re fast-tracking, you can skip college and then you can play in the AHL as a 19-yr old (You can’t do that when you are drafted from the CHL or Europe due to the NHL/NHLPA CBA), or if you’re not going to be ready for the AHL as a 19 or 20 yr old – you can stay in school and take more time, utilize every opportunity to fully reach your human potential before you turn pro – you can’t do that from the CHL – remember – that league “ends” at 20, and unless you’re ready to make the jump to the AHL then, your chances of reaching the NHL are minimal. The USHL prepares more players for the NCAA than ANY OTHER OPTION, and it relentlessly prepares players to be successful when they arrive as Freshmen. No other league or level does a better job of preparing a player for success at the college level than the USHL, it’s fact. The question is: why NOT the USHL?

What separates the Muskegon Lumberjacks coaching and off-ice staff from other teams?

Each team has its own way of doing things, we have ours. If you’re a player – then you need to look at the experience of the coaching staff, their backgrounds, past experiences as players themselves, what coaches they played for, what the facilities are, location, everything. From a perspective of the front office, look at the professionalism of the staff, where did they come from, what are their experiences. We’ve worked hard to assemble the organization we have, and it’s taken time do get the right people on board, but I believe that we finally have the right staff. Building one of these programs is not easy, it’s darned hard, and you make mistakes that you need to learn from along the way.

What style of hockey can fans unfamiliar with the USHL expect?

It’s a fast, skilled game. There is a lot of energy and emotion. It’s a tough, physical brand of hockey, and the players play HARD every night, there are no “off” nights in the USHL.

The Lumberjacks are only two years old, what’s been your proudest moment so far?

Making the playoffs our first year was a good moment, the refurbishments to the facility was a positive thing, last year was obviously a setback, but for me – it’s all about the scholarships and the players drafted – that is what motivates me – helping young men to improve and advance their careers, while teaching them valuable life lessons along the way. The wins will come, and building a winner takes time.

The USHL is rumored to be expanding again, is there any information on that you can share?

No, sorry. I don’t speak publicly on league matters that I am not in charge of, you need to interview the Commissioner for that stuff.

Matt Deblouw was drafted this spring by the Calgary Flames, what can you tell Flames fans about him?

Matt is extremely fast, and fluid as a skater, he is a very versatile player – in fact – I believe that his professional future will be as a “shut-down” center, a player who can play against the opposition’s top center and shut him down. Matt is an outstanding penalty-killer, and can skate all day – his lung capacity is astounding, so his recovery during the shift is exceptional. Matt can play physical or skill games and is brave. I think he’s got real professional potential.

Concussions have been the talk of athletics for a few years, how have the USHL and Muskegon Lumberjacks addressed this issue?

First we have to identify the issue: 1. What is the cause of the explosion in concussions? 2. What steps can we take the reduce the number of events that cause concussions? I don’t know that the Lumberjacks alone can do ANYTHING to reduce the number of concussions. Incidents that cause concussions are a matter of play, and the league and the referees have more “control” over that than an individual team does. What we do have control over – we certainly want to improve upon. First off is to make sure we have baseline readings – we do that with EVERY player right away when they come into our program. The 2nd step is to teach our players that they must report any contact to the head that causes any affect for them. We have taken great pains to make sure that our players are educated about head contact – from a playing point of view – we teach them, remedially, proper checking form, and we teach them to self-report any head contact issues. Our training and medical staff are up to date on every aspect of concussion recognition, and our trainer is instructed to watch the play specifically for any head contact that occur. The big key is to know when a player has been hit, and to identify if there is a concussion. The key is to know if a young man has an incident, and then to make sure that he doesn’t return to play until he is COMPLETELY healthy/recovered. From what I’ve been educated on (so far) the biggest problems occur when a player returns too soon and gets hit again – it’s the 2nd concussion that really hurts a player. Obviously a catastrophic event can far outweigh anything, but we want to make sure no one returns to play unless they are FULLY healed. As a league the USHL is about to introduce outstanding player education protocols, unique rules changes, and game play standards so the league is on the cutting-edge of trying to address this issue.

In addition to the hockey skills, what type of young man makes the Lumberjacks say “we want this guy on our team”?

Character. Life skills. Team skills. You don’t win with bad kids. I’ve done this too long to be fooled by talent. That’s why I had to step in last season and we had to remake the team – we didn’t have enough character on the team, in fact – we had too many “characters”. We’re looking for great people with strong value systems, that’s a Lumberjack.

 

 

You can find the Muskegon LumberJacks on the web: InsideMuskegonLumberjacks.com

The official team twitter account: @MuskegonJacks

Josh Mervis is @MuskegonJosh

PuckSage: As someone who has played in the AHL, NHL, and two European leagues what are the major differences between playing in Europe and the AHL or NHL respectively?

Gordie Dwyer: There are differences between Europe, the AHL and the Show, but the major one is how you are treated. You never have to ride the bus in the NHL! Obviously the NHL has the best players in the world,but there are a lot of guys in the minors or Europe that could contribute everyday at the NHL level.

PS: When you were a member of the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens  you got two see the inside of some of the NHL’s greatest rivalries. How much different was game day preparation for those games than playing a team with a less passionate history?

GD: Being part of some great rivalries in the game like the Leafs/Habs, NYR/NYI were great experiences. The Cities and buildings were always electric. Preparation never really differed but obviously the emotion level was always high. To play the game at a high level I always played with a lot of passion and emotion, so being involved with some of those rivalries made it easy for me to get up for those games.

PS: When you broke into the NHL, or went to a new team, were there players you were in awe of?

GD: When I broke into the NHL I wasn’t necessarily in awe of anyone with the TB Lightning but was in awe of the experience of playing in the NHL. I was fortunate enough to play with some great players with the Lightning like Vinny Lecavalier and Brad Richards but we were all young and most of us at the beginning of our careers.

PS: You got to play with a lot of the games superstars like Pavel Bure, Eric Lindros, Brian Leetch, and Vincent Lecavalier, of all the big names who was the most fun to be around?

GD: When I got moved to the Rangers, well that was a different story… Messier, Bure, Lindros, Leetch… The Rangers had an All-Star lineup. They were great players but most of all, they made it very comfortable for their teammates to fit in. Mark Messier was a player in particular that I was in awe of. He was one of the best players in NHL history and probably one of the most humble. He was an old school guy who played hard, enjoyed the game and invested time and energy in his teammates. That is probably what made him the special player he was. I always got a kick out of how he actually enjoyed my air guitar performances before warmups.

GD: Montreal was another organization that has many popular stars of the past and present. The fans are passionate about their team and it’s players. The best part of being in Montreal were definitely the fans but even more so the former greats of the past like Jean Beliveau. Mr. Beliveau is as close as possible to royalty in Canada.

PS: Which were your favorite cities to visit while playing professionally? Your least?

The obvious cities like Montreal, Toronto and New York were all favourites but one stop on the tour that I really loved was Nashville. A few afternoon pops at Tootsies on Broadway were always a nice break from my daily trips to the penalty box.

PS: During your career you got to see how a number of different coaches operated. Are their particular pieces of your own coaching style you can trace back to specific coaches?

DG: I was fortunate to have played for some great coaches throughout my career. Alain Vigneault was a coach that really left a mark on me as a junior. He treated us like pros at a young age in Junior hockey, he gave us lots of responsibility, keep players accountable and understood what it took to be a pro. He was a top coach in Junior and has had a great career at the NHL level as well.

DG: As a coach, I treat my players with respect. I am passionate about the game and I want to convey that to my players. I have high expectations for my players and hope to teach them that hard work and accountability to their themselves, teammates and organizations will make them better players and people.

PS: Are their guys you played with you use as specific examples of how to do things for your team?

GD: Peter Worrell is a player that I use as an example all the time. Peter went to training camp with the Hull Olympiques in 1994 in hopes of getting a free new pair of skates. To most everyone’s surprise he made the team, played physical, improved his skating and within a few years he was an everyday NHLer.

PS: As a player you were known for a certain physical presence, is it coincidence that your team currently has more penalty minutes than any other team in the MHL, or did you specifically seek out players who were more aggressive than most?

GD: As a Coach, I look for players that have passion for the game. Talent is great but it always has to paired with hard work, passion and a high compete level if you want to be successful.

Dwyer Vs Walker

PS: Last year you took a rebuilding team to the MHL playoffs and won the first round, how did last years success as a first year coach affect your preparation for this year?

GD: I enjoyed the experience of coaching last season. It was my first full season behind the bench. I realized that I have a passion for coaching. I was fortunate enough to be able to pick the brain of a few coaches in the area with significant experience. Gerard Turk Gallant is a coach that I have great respect for.

GD: This season I feel like I learned from the ups and downs of last season, Every season is a learning experience for coaches as you deal with different individuals and situations, but most importantly you come to the rink everyday looking to get better and pick up the next 2 points.

Gordie Dwyer is a great interview and I think him for his time and great responses. He played professionally from 1998 until 2008. His NHL time was split between: the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, and Montreal Canadiens. Dywer was twice traded between NHL teams, and enjoyed more NHL games than the two men he was traded for combined. Dwyer is a QMJHL alumni who has gone from being on the bench to behind it. He currently coaches the Summerside Western Capitals of the MHL. I wouldn’t bet against this New Brunswick native being behind an NHL bench in a few short years. The Hockey News named him one of their Top 40 Under 4o. And of course like power agent Scott Norton he was smart enough to do an interview with me. For more from Gordie Dwyer, you can follow him on Twitter @GDwyer32. If you start following him tell him “PuckSage sent me.”

Today’s interview is with Scott Norton of Norton Sports, former coach and player who is now agent to a number of hockey stars present and future.

Krys Barch is one of your clients and there are reports he as been resigned to a two year deal just before free agency. Between the two of you, you must have felt comfortable with the Stars despite rumors of financial difficulty. Did these rumors play a part in your negotiations or decision to assist Krys in resigning with the Stars?

Krys has not re-signed with the Stars.  Talked re-opened, and we are optimistic that something can be done soon.  The rumors of their financial situation has not played a role in Krys thinking at any time.

Krys Barch is one of the tougher players in the game, what’s he like off the ice?

Krys is as nice a guy off the ice as he is tough on the ice.  Him and his wife have two little children, and he is a great family man who spends a lot of time with them.

The Montreal Canadiens bought out legendary enforcer George Laraque, and it appears teams see the role of enforcers as a whole is diminishing, does this play a part in the way you evaluate young players who might project strictly as an enforcer?

I think more and more you have to be able to skate and play the game.  The one dimensional enforcer is becoming extinct, thus why a player like Krys who can really skate and play meaningful minutes is becoming so valuable to teams.

Matt Climie also currently Stars property has the uphill battle of securing a job in this very crowded goalie UFA class. How do you evaluate which teams might suit him best?

At this point, we are just biding our time with Matt until July 1 and Free Agency begins.  Matt is an interesting prospect who we do not believe is even close to hitting his peak.  Most of the goalies in the UFA class are nearing the end of their careers, Matt is just beginning his.

If you don’t feel Matt Climie is likely to get an NHL contract, how soon would you begin exploring offers overseas?

Through my Russian associate, we have been receiving interest in Matt for a while now.  In the next week or two, I will have to sit down with Matt and weight out what situation is in his best interest for next season and moving forward.

For those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to see him play, can you describe Matt’s playing style?

Matt is a big, aggressive goalie.  He uses a butterfly style like so many of the top goalies today, and he is very athletic.  He handles the puck extremely well for a goalie, similar to Turco or Brodeur.

At what age do you begin to consider signing clients?

My target age has changed in the last few years.  I used to have to go after the 15 and 16 year olds to try to get the best kids.  Now, agents are approaching those players when they are 14, and sometimes even 13.  That is just too young for me and my thought process.  I have now targeted college players, and have become very successful working with guys like Climie who are college free agents.  I run Norton Sports Management as a boutique agency where I pride myself on individual attention for each client.

Kevin Dallman former Bruin, Blue, & King is one of your clients and doing quite well in the KHL, does he have any desire to play in the NHL again?

Kevin and I talk all the time about this question.  Kevin went over to the KHL a couple of seasons ago, and became a star. His game and confidence are back where they were when he played in Guelph (OHL) and was named Defenceman of the Year.  I think Kevin would like to come back to the NHL at some point, and try to win a Stanley Cup.

If you have a client with unreasonable expectations of what they should be paid, how do you reshape their expectations?
That is a very difficult question.  With any of my clients, I feel honesty is the ONLY policy.  I am very straight forward whether it be my evaluation of a client’s play or at contract time.  It is critical to an athlete’s career to realize who they are and what they need to do to get better.

Brent Sopel recently appeared in the Chicago Gay Pride parade with the Stanley Cup, was the perception of the sports worlds general homophobia a concern for any of the decision makers in having him there?

First of all, I want to say how proud I am of Brent and his wife Kelly.  This was a huge decision for them, and really was a historic day.  Brent and I spoke about this a couple of weeks ago when we came up with the idea, and we all agreed that every person deserves a chance in life.  Brent and Kelly are extremely giving people having started their own charity “Angels get their Wings”,* and the parade was just another opportunity to give back to the city and the community.
What type of information do you have at hand about a given UFA client when discussing them with teams?

Having a background in hockey and coaching allows me to talk about clients both as players and commoditites, I know each of my clients thoroughly and come negotiation time, am prepared to discuss their last game, last season and/or whole careers.

Would you describe what July 1st is like from your perspective for readers?

July 1 is an exciting day for many, many players who have waited their careers to become unrestricted free agents.  On the other side, July 1 can be the start of a very nerve racking time for players who are just hoping for another chance.  Readers have to remember that most UFA’s do not get signed on July 1, and them and their families are waiting every hour to see where their lives will be going.  It is an anxious time for a lot of families.

Any parting words?

Thank you for this opportunity to tell your readers more about myself and the wonderful people I have the good fortune of representing.

*Website under construction, stay tuned.