MUSKEGON, Mich. — Despite the ongoing pandemic, the Muskegon Lumberjacks will be hitting the ice this winter.
"Our guys are just really excited to get going and they wish we were starting tomorrow, instead of in another month," said third year head coach, Mike Hamilton.
The United States Hockey League (USHL) is moving forward with hockey this winter and the Lumberjacks will do the same, team owners Dan Israel and Bob Kaiser announced in a press release on Wednesday.
The financial implications are major for the owners, and the city, if fans are not allowed at L.C. Walker Arena.
"We all know the impact we have in the winter time here in the city of Muskegon," Hamilton added, "in regards to local hotels and restaurants, it's probably in the half-a-million to a million dollar range by not having fans."
The USHL is one of the top junior hockey leagues in the world with players ages 15 to about 20 years of age. Lumberjacks head coach Mike Hamilton says it's important to get those players the opportunity to play.
"Our owners recognize the importance of our players," Hamilton said, "it's very important for them to continue chasing their dreams of playing Division 1 hockey and then, hopefully, moving on and becoming pros."
The start of the season will be pushed back to November 6 and will consist of 54 regular season games, instead of 62. Another change to the season will be four teams from each division advancing to the playoffs, instead of the typical six.
Coach Hamilton is ready to see what his team can do this winter.
"I think this team is going to be unlike it's been in years past," he added, "this is going to be one of the best returning squads we have had, so we're really excited."
Players and coaches understand it will be different without fans at L.C. Walker Arena this winter, but they're simply excited to suit up.
"It'll be different, but at the end of the day, the decision was, do we want to play hockey or do we not want to play hockey? Our guys 100-percent want to be here, our staff wants to be here," Hamilton said.
The team owners also said in the statement they will never jeopardize player safety but for now, the plan is to take the ice.
"We're talking about a small thing, we all know this is a bigger issue than just hockey," Hamilton explained, "but it has had a huge impact, that's why everyone is really excited that we're moving forward."
The Lumberjacks are slated to begin training training camp at the end of September.