A debacle in Flint

Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

In its inaugural season in Flint, the Firebirds have played relatively well in a tough West Division in the Ontario Hockey League.

In 17 games this season, the Firebirds are 7-9-0-1 and sit in last place in its division, but are not too far out from third place.

On Sunday, the team took on the defending OHL and Mastercard Memorial Cup Champions in the Oshawa Generals. The Firebirds came back from down 3-1 to tie the game in the third period, and eventually won in a shootout, 4-3.

After the game, Firebirds owner, Rolf Nilsen, fired head coach, John Gruden, and his coaching staff. After the firing, the players rallied together and stormed into Nilsen’s office and quit on the team.

So why would the coaches get the pink slip after a game in which they came back to beat the defending champions?

Because the owner’s son was, apparently, not getting enough playing time…

Nilsen’s son, Hakon, is a defenseman for the Firebirds entering his first season with the organization. Hakon has only played in five games this season with no points, a penalty, and a minus-3 rating.


The Firebirds have a good group of defenders that include Detroit Red Wings prospect, Vili Saarijarvi, Dallas Stars prospect, Alex Peters, Carolina Hurricanes prospect, Josh Wesley, and Zack Pittman.

Saarijarvi is having a heck of a year in Flint, as he is fourth in the OHL amongst defensemen in scoring with three goals and 14 assists in all 17 games played.

With the defense set, it would be difficult for Nilsen to get into the lineup on a consistent basis.

But what is more astounding is that as part of the group of players who quit, Hakon was one player who threw his jersey down and quit the team.

Now, the 17-year old defender could be traded away from his dad’s team.

As the owner of the team, it should be your duty to focus on the business perspective of the game. Ticket sales, promotions, and other financial issues like that. Not who should play on the ice and who gets the most ice-time. That is the coaching staff’s job.

Sure, your son is on the team and you would love to see him play more. What parent does not want to see their kid play more on the ice. If your kid is not playing, that is something far beyond your control.

To fire your entire coaching staff just because one player is not playing enough to your satisfaction is ridiculous. Regardless if it is your son or not.

On Monday, the commissioner of the OHL, David Branch, met with Flint ownership to see what was to be done about the rest of the season.

In the end, Gruden and his staff were all brought back on, and reportedly given new contracts to remain with the team. Also, the players decided to return to the team, as  they figured it would be for the betterment of the team.

It is disappointing to see such an event happen in the game, and see some great players have to walk out on the team due to the owner’s selfish decisions. It is still embarrassing even after this situation has been resolved, at least for now.

Will BittenWill Bitten is having a stellar season with the Firebirds, leading the team in scoring with 10 goals and 13 assists, and climbing the prospect rankings for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Alex Nedeljkovic is having a good year in net for the team, and was hoping to help Flint get to the playoffs. The Hurricanes prospect was the subject of trade talks before the season started, but the team traded another goalie and decided to keep the 19-year old net-minder. Now, Nedeljkovic may be rethinking his options.

Other players like Ryan Moore, Connor Chatham, and company were having stellar seasons with Flint before Sunday’s debacle.

At this point, all sides have to try and put this incident in the back-burner, and move on. The owner should probably make a statement to not only his team but his fanbase. As for the team, it is now on to the Sarnia Sting on Friday. That should be the only thing on their mind.

Keep it locked to Better Live Than Dead Sports for all the latest from around the hockey world.

Written by Brayton Wilson

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