By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal

The Muskegon Lumberjacks are narrowing their search for a new head coach after last week’s firing of Jim McKenzie.

Team president Tim Taylor confirmed those developments on Friday morning.

“The reality is that we didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve,” Taylor said. “We had a pretty tough second half with a 5-12-2 record the last 19 games. That is not acceptable to our fan base or to our organization.”

Besides McKenzie, the Jacks also released trainer Josh Bennett and equipment manager Jason Smits. The new coach is expected to fill those positions shortly after his hiring. Taylor said it’s normal for a coach to hire that type of support staff for the team.

Assistant coach Ron Gay remains with the club along with goaltender coach Manny Legace.

The process for replacing McKenzie has been moving rather quickly in recent days and a hiring is expected soon. That is a must since the Lumberjacks training camp opens June 10 at L.C. Walker Arena.

“From a search standpoint, we are ‘short listed’ and would expect something to be announced in the near future,” Taylor said. “We are thriving to be a top tier junior program in the country and we will continue to work diligently to get the right people involved to do that.”

McKenzie took over in January, 2012 after Kevin Patrick was relieved of his duties. The team finished that season with a 17-35-8 record and did not qualify for the playoffs. A youthful roster and several off-ice incidents were cited as contributing factors to the team’s struggles.

Despite the fact the team did not qualify for the playoffs that season, McKenzie was lauded for his efforts to get the team back on track. A year ago, McKenzie signed a two-year deal to remain with the USHL club through the 2013-14 season.

This past season, the Lumberjacks finished 31-23-10 in McKenzie’s first full season as head coach. However, the team limped to the finish and a possible second-place finish in the Eastern Conference turned into a fourth-place finish and a first-round series against Dubuque.

“We thought we had the pieces to contend,” Taylor said. “We had a stretch where we were second and ended up fourth and then had to play a very good Dubuque team.”

That did not bode well for the Lumberjacks, who were swept by the Fighting Saints, who went on to win its second Clark Cup title in the three years of their existence in the USHL. Muskegon and Dubuque were the league’s two expansion teams in the 2010-11 season.

“We don’t want to be average, we won’t accept average,” Taylor said. “And sometimes these types of changes are necessary to get to our ultimate goal.”