Thursday, March 26, 2015

Muskegon Lumberjacks (IHL, 1985-86)

1985-86 Season--Opponent Unknown
     By the mid-1980s, pro hockey in Muskegon had nearly collapsed. The Mohawks franchise had bottomed out, drawing few fans and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past decade. After a miserable 19-55-8 season in 1983-84, the franchise was purchased by Larry Gordon for $1."I put a $1.00 bill on the table and they refused the offer. I told them I'd be at the Holiday Inn...a short time later, I received a call and they accepted the offer," Gordon recalled years later.
     Gordon's cheap purchase was a godsend for Muskegon hockey. The team was renamed "Musekgon Lumberjacks" and the roster was overhauled, as only three Mohawks remained. Gordon also hired Rick Ley as Head Coach/President of Hockey Operations. The new Lumberjacks did a 180-degree turnaround in 1984-85, going 50-29-3 and reaching the Turner Cup Finals.
     The Lumberjacks were a secondary affiliate of the Quebec Nordiques, Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins in 1985-86. Ley returned behind the bench in 1985-86, and his Lumberjacks bettered their record from the previous season. Muskegon's sparkling 50-27-5 mark and 105 points won them their second-straight East Division crown, just seven points behind league-best Fort Wayne.
     Muskegon topped the IHL in goals scored that year, pumping in 376 goals. Leading the way was Jock Callander, a holdover from the previous season who followed Gordon from the CHL's Montana Magic. Callander scored 39 goals and 111 points in 1985-86. Ley had a pair of 50-goal scorers as well, as former Mohawk Scott Gruhl scored 59 goals and newcomer Dave Michayluk notched 52. Ex-Detroit Red Wing Dennis Polonich had 32 goals and 68 points in his first season in Muskegon. Three more players scored at least 20 goals.
     The Lumberjacks had the third-best defense in the IHL, surrendering 290 goals. Michel Dufour was the top netminder that year, playing in 52 games and going 29-14-0 with a 3.09 GAA. Bruce Gillies and Brian Ford were the backups that season. Ford drew the nod for the majority of the playoffs.
     Muskegon rolled through the 1985-86 Turner Cup Playoffs. They drew Indianapolis in Round One, and shoved aside the Checkers in five games (best-of-seven). The semifinals brought on  tough Saginaw Generals squad, who finished 41-33-8 and won the Turner Cup just two years earlier. Despite a close-fought series (including an overtime Game 1), the Lumberjacks eliminated Saginaw in five games to reach the Turner Cup Finals for the second straight year.
     The Lumberjacks opponent for the Finals was the Fort Wayne Komets, regular season champions with a 52-22-8 record. Despite the tough opponent, Muskegon crushed the Komets in four straight, outscoring Fort Wayne 23-11 in the process. Game Four, a 6-2 Lumberjacks win at LC Walker Arena, clinched the franchise's first Turner Cup Championship since 1967-68. Jock Callander, who scored 12 goals and 23 points in just 14 games, was named MVP of the Turner Cup Playoffs. Captain Scott Gruhl accepted the Turner Cup from Commissioner Bud Poile and the celebration was on!
     Very nice program for that season. It's 90 pages loaded with ads, article and pictures. The poster insert features Lumberjacks star forward Jock Callander. Looks like the original owner of the program was a winner too, as there's a stamp on the insert. Great articles about each IHL team and a recap of the 1984-85 season. Local ads include WGHN 1370 AM/93 FM ("The Rhythm of the Lakeshore"), House of Chan Chinese Restaurant and McDonalds of Muskegon (featuring the infamous McDLT!).


Sources:

VandeVoorde, Jay. Muskegon's Hockey History and Heroes. Author House, Bloomington, 2006.
Goal! Muskegon Lumberjacks Official Magazine, 1985-86 season.
International Hockey League Statistics: 1985-86 (from hockeydb.com)
"Muskegon Lumberjacks Win 1986 IHL Turner Cup Championship", Youtube, from hockeychief1.
"Lumberjacks Defeat Darren Pang and Saginaw in OT-1986 Turner Cup Playoffs", Youtube, from hockeychief1

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