By @MichaelCaples –
For 23 years, Mike Hamilton served as one of the top youth hockey coaches in the state of Michigan.
Now, it’s time for a new challenge.
Hamilton, a native of Grosse Pointe Farms, was introduced as the new head coach of the Muskegon Lumberjacks today – the fifth coach in the history of the USHL franchise.
“I’m obviously very excited for the opportunity,” Hamilton said in an exclusive interview with MiHockey shortly before his introductory press conference.
The announcement comes less than a year after Hamilton was hired as the Lumberjacks’ video coach – his first foray into the junior hockey coaching world.
He certainly brings a unique perspective to the Lumberjacks, however. Aside from coaching some of Michigan’s best young hockey players through the ranks, Hamilton has had a first-hand experience of the Lumberjacks and the USHL as a parent.
Hamilton’s son, Trevor, was the captain of the Muskegon Lumberjacks in 2015-16 before moving on to Penn State and eventually the Grand Rapids Griffins.
“I’ve got 23 years of head coach experience, so I think that’s going to help out, obviously,” Hamilton said. “I think being through this world as a parent is very important. I’ve been through the ups and downs of it with my son, and I’ve surrounded myself over my years of coaching with really good coaches that have coached in the league and played in the NHL. I think I’ve done my work over the years to have myself ready for this opportunity.”
Trevor – also a product of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program – said he’s glad his dad is getting this opportunity.
“I’m so excited for him,” the younger Hamilton said. “From teaching me how to skate to winning national championships with him, its always been his dream to coach at this level. He taught me everything I know and I hope nothing but the best for him.”
Spending time with the ‘Jacks during the 2017-18 season under former coach John LaFontaine has certainly helped Hamilton feel more comfortable moving into his new role.
“Learning the day-to-day operations in regards to just to a daily schedule, the travel, all that different stuff, and how to manage that many days on the ice. That’s something in the youth world, we don’t have access to as much ice as we have here. That’s something that’s going to take a little bit of learning how to manage all that and use it not just in a positive way, but not overdone, either.”
He’s excited to work with general manager John Vanbiesbrouck in the team’s quest to advance in the USHL postseason after multiple first-round exits.
“I had the opportunity to work with Beezer last year, and I’m really excited,” Hamilton said. “From my side, my main focus is hockey and the hockey players. My hope is that Beezer is feeding me great hockey players that can help support and help us win hockey games.”
The USHL head coach position is something Hamilton – a Minnesota State Mankato product – has long dreamed of. With his son wrapping up his amateur career and signing a contract with the Grand Rapids Griffins, it’s the perfect time for Hamilton to chase his coaching dreams.
“Trevor’s excited for me, as well as the rest of my family, for the opportunity because they know it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. From where we were at as a family, we weren’t able to make it happen – where we’re at now as a family, it’s a good time for me to try something like this.
“The experience of what [Trevor’s] been through is very valuable. It’s made me a better coach. How you deal with your players on a day-to-day basis, how you communicate with them, knowing from the other side of it by being a parent, how things affect your child and how they’re handled – I’ve learned from those experiences and hopefully it will make me a better coach.”
Saying goodbye to the youth hockey circuit isn’t easy, however. Over the course of his 23 years, Hamilton won 15 Michigan Amateur Hockey Association state championships, and built countless relationships with elite players and their families.
“Absolutely, the youth game has been great to me and my family,” Hamilton said. “I love it. It’s this in a smaller world. I’ve had nothing but great times doing it, and I’m going to miss working with the younger guys and being a part of their development.”
What he took most pride in, however, is something that he will continue to do in Muskegon. Outside of winning the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament with his son in 2008, Hamilton’s favorite youth hockey memories were whenever he could see his former players thriving at the next level.
“…The Pee Wee Quebec championship was special for me because A. it was a phenomenal team and B. I did it with my son, so that one kind of stands out to me as something real special. But really, what always excited me was when I would go to a Michigan vs. Michigan State game and there were 12 kids on the ice that I had an impact on that were playing. That’s what it was always about for me. It wasn’t just the wins or the losses, it was the development and helping guys reach their potential.”
Now, he’s excited to bring his years of experience to Muskegon’s bench.
“I’m very gracious for the opportunity and, for me, I can’t say how excited I am. It’s going to be good for us. Across the board, there are going to be some fresh ideas. Coming from the youth side, I’ll kind of be able to relate to some of the things they’re dealing with, and we’ve done things at the youth level that you probably got away with because you had more ice and more space, but I think there are some new ideas that I’ve developed in youth hockey and we’ll see how they translate to the USHL level.”