The Flint Firebirds have recorded their best start through 10 games in franchise history. They started the Ontario Hockey League season winning four of their first five games, stretching that to an overall record of 7-3 through 10 games. Flint now finds themselves third in the West Division of the OHL standings.
The Firebirds are a team that has dealt with its fair share of struggles in the past, from turmoil in the front office to coaches leaving and everything in between. However, the 2019-20 Firebirds aim to put all that behind them.
Head coach Eric Wellwood is embarking on his first full season at the helm, after his unexpected promotion last season in mid-October. A strong draft has restocked the talent pool in Flint and the direction is trending upwards.
Solid goaltending has allowed the Firebirds to go on the offensive. The team scored 46 goals to begin the season while only allowing 39, the lowest goals against total in the West Division.
Changes Made in Flint, Michigan
Welcome the addition of former Guelph Storm netminder and OHL champion Anthony Popovich and things look even brighter for the Firebirds. Popovich has started 7 of the Firebirds’ first 10 games and has a record of 5-2 with a 3.21 goals-against average during that stretch.
The Firebirds’ defensive group is young, although loaded with experience and playing with confidence. Two of the top 10 players in scoring are defensemen Riley McCourt and Vladislav Kolyachonok. McCourt topped all rearguards with 11 points through 10 games, Kolyachonok kept pace with 8 points.
The forwards have also done their part as the Firebirds look to continue their winning ways. Evgeniy Oksentyuk was selected fifth overall by the Firebirds at the 2019 CHL Import Draft, and he currently leads the team in points with 14 through 10 games.
Ty Dellandrea has been outstanding in his return from the Dallas Stars and currently ranks second on the team in points. He has 5 goals while adding 7 assists for 12 points in 8 games.
The remaining rookies have also made their mark and continue to help the Firebirds rise through the OHL standings. Brennan Othmann and Braeden Kressler wasted no time getting in on the scoring.
Othmann, the second-overall selection at the 2019 OHL Priority Draft is seventh on the team in points with eight. He has 4 goals and 4 assists in his first 10 appearances, tallying 6 of those points in the second half of the 10-game stretch. Kressler was the Firebirds’ second-round selection at the 2019 OHL Priority Draft. The Kitchener, Ontario native has tallied 2 goals and 4 assists through 10 games.
The start has been all the Firebirds organization could ask for, now maintaining and improving will be the next challenge for them. The Firebirds are the least penalized team in the OHL, and continuing to stay out of the sin bin will help.
Firebirds Quest for the OHL Playoffs
Ten games into the season, the Firebirds have secured a .700 winning percentage, which ranks as the best in the West Division. They will continue to progress as the chemistry between players continues to grow. If early play is any indication, we might see Flint at the top of the West Division by the end of the season.
The fire continues to burn bright in Flint, riding the hot hand of rookie import selection Oksentyuk. Leaning on the experience of Dellandrea, Dennis Busby, Kolyachonok and, of course, overage netminder Popovich.
Jacob Durham will play a key role as an overage player for the Firebirds, holding the third spot in points after 10 games. He has buried 7 goals and tossed in 4 assists for 11 points.
Durham has been with the Firebirds since 2016. Originally drafted by the Hamilton Bulldogs, he continues to improve every season. He is coming off his career best season in 2018-19 when he recorded 35 goals and 29 assists for 54 points in 68 games played.
It will be a complete team effort if Flint intends to make a run and find the playoffs, a feat they have been unable to achieve since the 2016-17 season. Undoubtedly off to their best start and looking to improve as the season wears on, only time will tell if the Firebirds are for real.