Remembering the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ Turner Cup title in 1986

By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal

It’s 52 years and counting for Muskegon hockey.

The first 50 years were as a professional franchise that competed in the International Hockey League, the Colonial Hockey League, the United Hockey League and finally, a rebirth of the IHL.

Jock Callander scored three goals and added one assist to lead the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the Game 4 victory over the Fort Wayne Komets.

The last two years, Muskegon has been a member of the United States Hockey League, a Tier 1 junior league that features some of the best 16- to 20-year old hockey players in North America. The third season of USHL hockey kicks off Saturday night when the Muskegon Lumberjacks take on Team USA at L.C. Walker Arena.

No doubt, most hockey fans can come up with a list of some of their favorite games of all time. It may have included winning a championship or maybe it featured some rough and tough “old-time hockey.”

One of my favorite games of all time was played May 20, 1986.

On that Tuesday night, 5,400 rabid Muskegon hockey fans packed into L.C. Walker Arena to watch the Muskegon Lumberjacks take on the hated Fort Wayne Komets in Game 4 of the Turner Cup finals. Muskegon captured the first three games and was looking to sweep away the Komets.

Goals came early and often as the Komets scored two of the game’s first three goals and led 2-1 before the 7-minute mark of the opening period.

From there, the Jacks scored the game’s final five goals en route to a 6-2 victory. The title ended an 18-year Turner Cup drought for the mighty Lumberjacks.

Muskegon hadn’t enjoyed the sweet taste of a playoff championship since the Muskegon Mohawks won the Turner Cup in 1968.

There were some very lean years of hockey in Muskegon during those 18 years.

But on this night, the Jacks were on top of the hockey world and they did it in convincing fashion.

Jock Callander was the scoring hero with three goals and one assist. His goal at 1:07 of the middle period proved to be the winning goal. Other Lumberjacks to score that evening were Guy Benoit, a late-season addition from Toledo, Dennis Polonich and Dave Michayluk, who also drew two assists for a three-point night.

Goaltender Brian Ford stopped 29-of-31 shots in net.

There was also the first-period fight in which Tom Karalis pummeled Craig Channel and ended up pounding on the Komet player’s back to close out the bout.

Owner Larry Gordon and Coach Rick Ley had assembled a championship team in the Jacks’ second year of existence. Other leaders on that team included veterans Scott Gruhl and Dave Allison, Todd Strueby, Todd Charlesworth and Dan Naud.

Don Keller, another midseason acquisition, won a playoff title for the third time in his career, but without a doubt, the Jacks title was the best because he got to skate around the ice with the cup high overhead.

He was a healthy scratch in Rochester (AHL) and was injured the previous season in Peoria when it defeated the Lumberjacks in the Turner Cup finals.

There was a lot of Muskegon pride on display that evening from the standing-room-only crowd at L.C. Walker Arena to a group of Lumberjack players who were rewarded for a long season of dedication and hard work.

 

 

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