Friday, May 11, 2012

McKenzie, 'Jacks agree to extension

The Muskegon Lumberjacks and head coach Jim McKenzie have agreed to a two-year contract extension, the United States Hockey League club announced today.

The freshly-signed deal will keep McKenzie, a 15-year NHL veteran and Stanley Cup winner, in charge through the 2013-14 season. The 42-year-old native of Gull Lake, Sask., was named the second head coach in franchise history Jan. 13. The Lumberjacks are set to enter their third season in the USHL, the nation’s premier league for developing NCAA and NHL talent.

“Jim did an excellent job in a difficult situation,” said Lumberjacks owner and general manager Josh Mervis. “I believe our best days as a franchise are ahead of us with Jim’s leadership. The players know they will have a disciplined and demanding coach, a coach who knows how to develop players, and understands the demands of learning to become a professional hockey player at the highest level.”

Under McKenzie, the Lumberjacks posted an 8-19-6 record to conclude their second USHL campaign, but his tenure was defined by improved team-oriented play and a renewed commitment to defense. Muskegon, the youngest team in the league, battled through growing pains to claim seven of McKenzie’s eight wins against playoff-bound squads.

“I love coaching and this is a great opportunity,” McKenzie said. “The USHL is an outstanding league and it’s exciting working with talented players and getting them ready for the next level, wherever it may be.”

Along with senior adviser Ron Mason, who was also added to Muskegon’s hockey operations staff in mid-January, McKenzie enthusiastically tackled the difficult task of taking over a team in midstream. Mason is the winningest coach in men’s college hockey history and won an NCAA title with Michigan State University.

“Along with Ron’s formidable coaching talent, which we are fortunate to have at our disposal, we are extremely confident in our leadership structure going forward,” Mervis said. “Jim has lived it, and done it, and now he is eminently capable of teaching, developing, and leading our players to their fullest potential.”

Although the Lumberjacks missed the USHL postseason for the first time, going 17-35-8 in their second go-around on the Tier I circuit, McKenzie is optimistic about the 2012-13 team returning Muskegon to Clark Cup contention.

“The groundwork has been laid to get our program back on track,” he said. “Our coaches and scouts have done great work scouting new talent, and we have a good group of players coming back who will only get better.”

McKenzie played more than 900 NHL games, collecting 100 points (48g, 52a) and 1,739 penalty minutes in 880 regular season games. The 6-foot-4 rugged left winger also appeared in 51 playoff games and was a member of the 2003 Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils.

McKenzie was selected by the Hartford Whalers in the fourth round (73rd overall) of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. He made his NHL debut with the Whalers during the 1989-90 season and went on to play for eight other organizations during his NHL career. He retired after spending the 2003-04 season with the Nashville Predators.

Following his playing career, McKenzie stayed close to the game, holding a coaching position with the TPH Thunder hockey club. He also has experience working with the National Hockey League Players Association.

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