By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal

Josh Mervis is leaving town proud of what he was able to accomplish as the owner of the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the first 3 years of the team’s existence.

He’s heading back to his home in Carmel, Ind., where he has a wife and five children, all under the age of 12.

Working in Muskegon, located 5½ hours from home, just got to be too much.

“I’ve got a young family,” said Mervis, whose time in town this past season was limited after having surgery in February. “I’m going home because I have five children under the age of 12. I can’t continue to be 5 ½ hours from home each way.”

But, he won’t be straying too far away from the game of hockey.

“I going home and I will be developing youth hockey in Indianapolis,” said Mervis, who has plans to build an ice arena in the Indianapolis area. Those plans may not be on paper as yet, but it’s something Mervis is committed to getting done.

While Mervis did not rule out more involvement in hockey in the future, he does plan to remain close to home, at least in the foreseeable future.

And he sees the future of hockey in Muskegon glowing brighter than ever.

“The game is stronger now than when we arrived and that’s what I’m probably most happy about,” said Mervis. “And, the best days of the franchise are head of it.”

Mervis, per USHL rules, cannot divulge the ownership group that purchased the team, but that did not stop him from divulging what has transpired in recent months. Final approval is expected next week by the USHL board of governors.

Mervis said he was approached by the group to form a partnership, but after plenty of discussions, Mervis agreed to sell them the franchise. Those talks lasted about 2 months.

“They inquired about a partnership and we just reached a point where it made sense to do a 100 percent transaction,” said Mervis. “They are going to be fantastic with their commitment to Muskegon and to the USHL, but also continue to build the youth hockey program, continue to revitalize L.C. Walker Arena and expand on the renovations that we’ve made. They are going to be a great partner for the community and the city.

“They are going to take what I did and take it far beyond that,” Mervis said. “The new ownership group shared with me even bigger plans and brighter colors than I had.”

That should dispel any rumors that Muskegon will eventually lose its hockey team. Not going to happen, according to Mervis.

“I can tell you that you cannot move a USHL team easily,” Mervis said. “The league frowns greatly on moving teams. You cannot city hop with USHL teams, it’s just now allowed.

“The USHL in Muskegon is even more solid today than it was 10 days ago and it was rock solid 10 days ago,” Mervis said. “The best days of the franchise are ahead of it.”

On the ice, Mervis is confident the Lumberjacks will compete for a championship sooner rather than later.

“I think we had the best draft we’ve ever had and the cupboard is stocked with players for the next 2 years,” he said. “Between last year’s Futures Draft and this year’s Future Draft and draft.”

The new group also will be picking its staff, including a head coach.

Mervis hesitated slightly because he did not want to speak for the new owners, but he does believe a new coach will be named in the next couple of days. Training camp starts Monday at Walker Arena.

Not the first offer

Mervis said he’d been approached about “every other month” by prospective buyers of the franchise.

“The long and the short of it is that we’ve received offers every other month and I had no interest in selling the team,” he said. “These guys are much more focused on Muskegon and sharing the vision I had and having an even bigger vision for Muskegon and the L.C. Walker Arena.

“I admired that,” said Mervis.

Financial outlook

“When you put seven figures into the building, you’re not going to get your money out overnight,” Mervis said. “It was a long-term thing.

“We made huge positive strides this year … huge,” he said. “The team is doing fine, the arena does need some more development and it’s going to take a public/private partnership to do that.”

Mervis said the city’s local leaders need to view the arena as the downtown engine that can drive the economy.

“That has to drive the downtown 9 months out of the year,” he said. “The hot thing is the Farmer’s Market, but for 9 months out of the year, it’s cold in Muskegon and you have to be indoors.

“The arena has to be the engine for economic rebirth downtown, but they’ve got to get past the projects that appeal to the few and have events that appeal to the many.”

Mervis also thanked city leaders, namely Tim Paul, Steve Warmington, Steve Gawron, Bryan Mazade and I. John Snider for their support.

“The city leaders were lovely,” Mervis said. “And I. John Snider was a huge help for me and someone I could lean on.”

Missing Muskegon already

“The billet families were unbelievable and we know we provided quality family entertainment,” Mervis said. “I will miss the people and the relationships. After 17 years, all the wins and losses run together. I love to compete, but it’s the people that you emotionally connect with … that’s what I will miss.”

“And I can’t say enough about the staff,” said Mervis. “They are really good.”