WEST MICHIGAN PHANTOMS
THE PHANTOM JERSEY STORY:
A group of 1800 fans piled into the Mart Auditorium (now known as the Mart Dock) in Downtown Muskegon during a Saturday evening to watch the Muskegon Reds take on their opponent. The snow and wind of the 1933 winter would not stop hockey fans in Muskegon from paying 50 cents to watch the first organized hockey league in the Port City. The Muskegon Reds stayed in the Michigan-Ontario Hockey League (MOHL) until 1938, when the team did not get financial backing and were forced back out and drop to amateur status. As World War II began to transform, the Mart Auditorium was converted into a cold storage facility in 1942 to meet the needs of the time. The loss of the Mart as an indoor skating and hockey rink forced the many recreational teams to play outdoor games in parks around the Muskegon area. Then, in 1960 construction work was finally completed on the brand new 1.5 million dollar L.C. Walker Arena. As Muskegon townspeople and President Richard Nixon gathered for the dedication ceremony on October 27, 1960, the President stated, “There isn’t a bad seat in the place!”
With the brand new arena completed and dedication complete, Muskegon residents were again able to watch organized hockey for the first time in nearly 20 years. A new International Hockey League franchise was awarded to Muskegon and the Muskegon Zephyrs were born. A slim, energy-filled crowd of 2,000 fans filed in to watch the Zephyrs play the Omaha Knights. Yet, the first Muskegon IHL victory would take place a few days later on October 29th, 1960 when the Zephyrs again played Omaha and capped a 5-4 overtime victory. The Zephyrs lasted five seasons and captured the Turner Cup Championship during their second season. Following the final season (1964-65), Zephyr Petroleum disappeared as a team sponsor and the next era in Muskegon Hockey History took shape.
The Muskegon Mohawks began play in 1965-1966 in the same International Hockey League. With the same ownership group in place, the Mohawks made great success in their first season suffering only a mere 19 losses. The team captured the Huber Trophy for the best regular season record, yet got swept by the Port Huron Flags 4-0 in the opening play-off series. The Mohawks remained in Muskegon through the 1983-1984 season.
Following the Mohawk stint, Muskegon hockey again was transformed and the third generation of professional hockey came to the lakeshore. With Larry Gordon as the new owner of the Muskegon IHL franchise, the team’s name was changed to the Muskegon Lumberjacks. In 1984-1985, the first season Muskegon Lumberjacks went on to win fifty games. The following season, the Lumberjacks were even better, surpassing the 50-win total and going on to sweep the Fort Wayne Komets 4 games to 0 to win the Turner Cup championship. The Lumberjack era in Muskegon lasted only six seasons. The ‘Jacks won two league championships and received three Huber Trophy’s as the league’s best regular season team.
Some may be wondering what all this Muskegon Hockey History has to do with the Phantoms. Well, this Lumberjack era is the period in which most everyone on the Phantoms first became a follower of hockey. With players like Jock Callander, Dave Michayluk, Todd Charlesworth, Scotty Gruhl proudly wearing the Lumberjack jersey, the young kids watching the games on the wooden bleacher seats with their parents was a great introduction to hockey. We remember watching players like Bryan Fogarty, Dave Allison, Kevin Stevens, Mark Recchi, Jim Paek, Paul Laus and other Lumberjack players move on to the NHL and have successful careers.
The Muskegon Lumberjacks allowed Muskegon residents and many future Phantom players to watch a player play in Muskegon one night and watch them wearing the Pittsburgh Penguins jersey in the NHL the next.
The white, yellow and black jerseys worn by the Muskegon Lumberjacks are very engrained in the minds of many on the Phantoms, because growing up that was our team and that is who we watched at the L.C. Walker arena. It is no wonder why the very successful youth programs of the Muskegon Chiefs also wear the Yellow and Black style jerseys.
Sure, the Lumberjacks are gone and the Muskegon Fury are our new team, yet the Lumberjacks was our first introduction to hockey as kids and it was the Lumberjacks that truly got hockey in our blood. While the jerseys (Lumberjacks/Phantoms) may not look the same with the color design, the Lumberjacks are the reason that the Phantoms wear the Yellow and Black colors and the reason that we are so proud of our team’s history. For a recreational team to develop in Muskegon it is only fitting for that team like the Phantoms to take the yellow and black colors and incorporate them into their own. The ‘Jacks were a very successful team while in Muskegon. It is only fitting that the Phantoms have also been pretty successful during our first 20-seasons. This is recreational hockey and this is for fun, yet next time you watch a West Michigan Phantom game you will know why we choose the jersey’s and colors that we did. It may just take you back for a brief moment and think about the great hockey action once seen and currently seen in the town that can truly be called Hockeytown West.