By Steve Gunn
That trend continued on Tuesday when the team announced a front-office shakeup designed to produce a more steady flow of quality players on the roster, for the rest of the current season and beyond.
The biggest move was the hiring of Steve Lowe as the new president of hockey operations for the Lumberjacks, beginning immediately. Lowe will be responsible for the development of the roster, trades and all other player personnel decisions.
He certainly comes with the right credentials.
Lowe was president of hockey operations for the USHL’s Tri-City Storm for the past six seasons. Under his leadership the team won the Clark Cup in 2015-16 , as well as the Anderson Cup for the most points in the regular season standings last season.
He acquired 31 players during his tenure who went on to be drafted by teams in the National Hockey League, including 13 who have already played in the NHL.
Lowe resigned from his position with the Storm earlier this season, after the team was sold to new ownership, and the Lumberjacks pursued him right away.
“Steve had decided to terminate his relationship with Tri-City,” Israel told LocalSportsJournal.com in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “I’ve known him north of a decade, and he’s been one of the most successful front office people in the league, if not the most successful. We had the opportunity so we went out and got him.
“We had talked to him several times in the past, and we always respected (Tri-City’s) previous owner and their relationship. But we called Steve the minute he gave notice and said come work for us. He had several other opportunities in the USHL, but he lives with his family in Kalamazoo and wanted to be closer to home.”
To assist Lowe, the Lumberjacks hired Jimmy McGroarty to be the team’s new general manager. McGroarty had multiple roles in the USHL for 13 seasons with the Omaha Lancers and the Lincoln Stars. More recently he has been the director of hockey/scouting at TPH Academy, and has been scouting for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the elite Ontario Hockey League.
McGroarty will lead the Lumberjacks’ scouting operation and help Lowe in all phases of roster development. He in turn will be assisted by Lumberjacks Coach Mike Hamilton, who has added the second title of assistant general manager.
Israel said he’s particularly interested in improving the Lumberjacks’ performance in the annual USHL draft, and effective scouting plays a huge role in that.
McGroarty replaces former General Manager Ryan Bennett, who joined the Lumberjacks in the summer of 2018 and was released from his duties last week.
The Lumberjacks did well with Bennett in charge of player personnel. Last season they won the USHL Eastern Conference championship before being eliminated in the playoff semifinals. This season they are 8-6-1 so far, with a seven-game winning streak to boast about.
Israel said it wasn’t a matter of being dissatisfied with Bennett’s performance. He said he simply saw an opportunity to upgrade the front office, and took it.
“I wasn’t unhappy,” Israel said. “We were really good last year, but we didn’t win it. I have indicated to everyone that we want to be a championship team. I was not unhappy with Ryan or the product on the ice. We just had an opportunity to secure the best guy in the league (Lowe) and an opportunity to get better.
“I think Ryan did a fine job. But now we have a guy with a lot of contacts who lives in our state.”
Israel credited co-owner Bob Kaiser for pursuing Lowe and negotiating a contract with him. He also doubled-down on his pledge to bring a championship to Muskegon and make the Lumberjacks a perennial league power.
The Jacks have yet to win a Clark Cup championship in their nine years in the league.
“We’re going to build a dynasty here,” Israel said. “It’s just taking some time.”