Thursday, January 19, 2012

McKenzie taking charge in Muskegon

New Muskegon Lumberjacks head coach Jim McKenzie played 15 seasons in the NHL, so a midseason coaching change is not a foreign concept to him.

Rather, the 42-year-old native of Saskatchewan knows that a switch like this is common in a results-oriented business like sports, and he’s ready for the challenge of taking over a team midstream.

“My focus is on getting these guys ready to play,” said McKenzie, who won a Stanley Cup in 2003 with the New Jersey Devils. “I’ve tried not to change too much right away, because a lot of what they were doing was working. They’ve had some success this season and I want to help them build on that.”

The past few days have been eventful for McKenzie, as he was officially named to the position Friday morning and arrived in Muskegon over the weekend. He observed practice Monday before getting into instruction Tuesday.

“The starting point for us has to be defending our own net,” he said. “We start from our end and if everybody supports each other, we will have success from that. It’s about working together and taking care of business in some of the tough areas on the ice.”

McKenzie has not been afraid to lean on a reliable support group in assistant coaches Dave Noel-Bernier and Steve Palmer, as well as newly-appointed senior advisor Ron Mason.

“It’s been great to have [Noel-Bernier and Palmer] to throw ideas around and help me get familiar with the players quickly,” McKenzie said. “And Ron is just awesome. He’s a phenomenal sounding board and can attack an issue from so many different ways. The amount of hockey he knows is incredible.”

McKenzie’s experience at the game’s highest level gives him instant credibility in the Lumberjacks dressing room, especially among players who seek to make a career of the sport they love to play.

“Nothing comes easy in this game,” said the Jacks’ new bench boss. “The guys like Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk, Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews put in the work year round to get where they are. You have to learn to overcome obstacles if you want to succeed.”

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