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