Mike Hamilton Muskegon Lumberjacks Head Coach Q & AAugust 6, 2018
Pre-season is almost upon us! As we hockey lovers get ready to lace up our skates, coach Mike Hamilton is already neck-deep in season prep. Access Hockey MI sat down with the newly appointed head coach of the Muskegon Lumberjacks. We got the chance to see inside his mind and what he expected for the 2018-19 season.
A few familiar faces
After losing so many guys to the NCAA or getting drafted (see draft celebratory gush post here), Coach Hamilton is up against what seems like enormous odds. He isn’t worried, however. A few familiar faces will be returning to Muskegon that will create a solid foundation for Hamilton to build on. A total of 12 guys will be returning to the Muskegon lineup that the fans are already quite familiar with. Among those returners will be Jagger Joshua, Benito Posa, and Keegan Karki.
On the blueline alone, the Lumberjacks will be welcoming back six, “To me, that’s going to be the strength. We’ve got five full-time returners,” said Hamilton, “and if you count McDonald (who was with us in the playoffs), that’s six full-time returners.”
Adding to the pleasure of the returners is the not-so-expected return of Colby Bukes. Bukes is a big body with a heavy skill set that coach was elated to be having back, “We’re excited to get him back – we honestly didn’t think that was happening but it worked out in our favor,” Hamilton said. Bukes, putting his school plans on hold will finish out some development in the USHL along with teammate Matej Pekar.
With Pekar gaining worldwide attention as a Sabres draft pick, he’s decided to come back to Muskegon for further development as well. Hamilton will be fully expecting the youngster to carry a hefty load for his team in the coming season, “Matej will be the horse that we’ll be pushing and riding, not to put too much pressure on Matej…” Hamilton said, “We’re hoping he can be a guy that can carry a big load for us and play a ton of minutes.” Showing the utmost faith in the only second-year player, Coach went on to say, “He’s a kid that can handle it – he’s the first guy on the ice, last guy off the ice on a daily basis. He’s what you’re looking for – as a hockey coach.”
Pushing the new – replacing the old
Continuing to build the team, Hamilton also expects many of the players with experience in other leagues to step it up, “You’ve got guys that you moved, from the NA (North American League). From that you’ve got like a Watkins, Pitters, (and) Brock Bremer was a draft pick that played in the North American League last year…” These guys are going to be pushed hard but with good faith in their abilities.
Another challenge facing Hamilton is filling the Captaincy. With Anthony Del Gaizo, the former Lumberjacks captain, settling into the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Del Gaizo can no longer be counted on to lead the pack in Muskegon.
Which begs the question, then who?
Mike Hamilton has a general idea of who he’d choose, but in the proper form of a coach, is relying heavily on the guys who this player must lead, to weigh in. “I was texting with Matej and Sully (Sullivan) and picking their brains,” Hamilton said. “So, there’s definitely some guys that we’re leaning towards. I like to let the guys be part of that process too… I know if I was picking, who I’d pick to be in the leadership group but I want the guys to be part of the decision.”
Given that the team will have to follow whoever is chosen, Hamilton’s desire to have the team involved is a just one. Though ultimately having the final decision, whoever wears the “C” next season for Muskegon, will undoubtedly be one the players already have immense respect for.
Heading to Camp
With camp quickly approaching (September 4th), the Lumberjacks will be in a hot rush to get the roster finalized and all prepped for the regular season. Having a selection of 32 skaters, including a few 2002 birth year kids, Coach Hamilton has his work cut out for him. The ‘02 kids have a heavy load to bear in order to make an impression, but Hamilton has high hopes.
Much of those hopes find refuge in the Russians. Daniil Gushchin, a promising youth of 16, will join the team this season. Gushchin qualified to play in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, an age group beyond his. Along with countrymen Egor Afanasayev and Alex Yakovenko, the young Russian will bring a distinct game among the USHL-ers.
Different is Good
Hamilton has roots in Muskegon. He played under former coach, John LaFontaine and Hamilton’s son, Trevor, was a Lumberjack Captain prior to his professional career. Though Mike is expecting to be much of the same as the former coach, there will be a few marked differences within the first few weeks of the season. “La (LaFontaine) coached me in juniors and I would consider him one of my mentors – so a lot of the same similarities.” Hamilton said, “We’re going to play with skill and we’re going to develop. We’re going to play with patience. I would say my style is a little bit more of a “go-getter.” I like to go and go hard – finish more checks, things like that. At the end of the day, there’s going to be a lot of similarities.”
Under Hamilton’s leadership, the team chemistry will undergo a bit of change as well. With much of the talent now moving on, Mike has the difficult task of re-orienting the team mindset. “It’s going to be a different style than we had last year too. We got to play really, really high-end skill because we had so many talented guys. With this year… we’ll have to play a little bit more of a heavy game. A little more hitting. We don’t want to go too far with it either. That’s just the team that we’ve been presented with. We’ve got some big bodies…so we have to use that to our advantage.”
On to the Next
Heading into this coming season, Hamilton will no doubt pick up right where LaFontaine with a few minor adjustments. Hamilton told Access Hockey MI, “We didn’t get to systems and stuff till later in the season last year… I think was a reason for the slow start. In the first week, we’ll be touching some part of our systems,” stated Hamilton. “We will start introducing some things to get ourselves going.”
The faces of the team will be a little different but fans will instantly recognize those returning. Muskegon is once again, overrun with top talent once again. With the “go-getter” disposition of Hamilton, it won’t be long till they are once again chasing a Clark Cup.