By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – Muskegon Lumberjacks star forward Rem Pitlick, who previously indicated that he would probably return to the team this season, has changed his mind.

Pitlick has decided to enroll and play hockey at the University of Minnesota in the fall semester, bringing his career in Muskegon to a close after one season, according to Lumberjacks General Manager John Vanbiesbrouck.

“Rem informed us of his decision two nights ago,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “He felt like he was ready.”

The news is a blow to the Lumberjacks as they prepare for the 2016-17 season. They were certainly counting on big things from Pitlick after he led the United States Hockey League last season in goals (46) and overall points (89).

Pitlick was named the league’s Player of the Year following the season. He was drafted by the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators in June in the third round as the 76th overall pick.

In March Pitlick told that he was “99 percent” sure that he would return to Muskegon for another season.

Vanbiesbrouck said several factors probably played a role in Pitlick’s decision to leave the team, including the Jacks’ decision to fire former coach Todd Krygier last month and replace him with John LaFontaine, a former North American Hockey League coach.

“I think everything was a factor,’ Vanbiesbrouck said. “I think changing coaches was a factor, and the Fact that he was drafted high. When you get into the summer, guys have a chance to think things through.”

Vanbiesbrouck said the Lumberjacks are happy with their roster for training camp, which begins on Aug. 28. Last month he said the team was expecting about a dozen players back from last year’s team, including high-scoring forward Collin Adams, standout defenseman Bo Hanson and last year’s backup goalie, Devin Cooley.

The Lumberjacks were 27-26-3 last season and finished in seventh place in the USHL’s nine-team Eastern Conference.

“I feel confident in our roster,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “We like what we have. Obviously to say losing Rem is not a big factor would be foolish.”

The Lumberjacks will open their 2016-17 season Sept. 23 in Plymouth against the Team USA Under 17 squad. Their home opener will be Oct. 1 against the same opponent.