What an amazing statement that title is, right? The Flint Firebirds are all in on this OHL season.
Considering where this franchise has been, it’s a remarkable turnaround for a team that has lived in turmoil for several seasons. Whether it was the players threatening to walk away from the team or if it was their former head coach stepping away from the team for personal reasons, there’s been no shortage of crazy things happening in Central Michigan. That doesn’t even count the numerous losses the team has suffered.
But 2019 is a new year and a new opportunity. The Firebirds have signaled things are changing around them. Thanks to their star player returning from NHL camp and a couple of big trades, even though it is still October, the Firebirds have made it crystal clear that they are treating the 2019-20 season as a chance to go for everything.
Good on the Firebirds. Their fans deserve this after years of torment and struggle. Let’s review how we got to this point by looking at their recent activity.
The Firebirds have made two major trades to set themselves up for their run. The first one was in net, something they desperately needed to address. They tabbed an OHL champion to get them going.
The Guelph Storm sent goalie Anthony Popovich to the Firebirds in exchange for a third and a fifth-round pick in 2020. That’s a good return for an overage goalie. But if you’re a Firebirds fan, it was a sign of the change that was coming.
Something that has eluded this franchise for years finally had some stability: their own net. Popovich brings stability in spades. He helped the Storm win the OHL championship. His run was highlighted by major comebacks. The Storm was down 3-0 in games to London. They forced Game 7. Then London was up 3-1 in Game 7. The Storm won the game. Popovich shut the door.
Then Popovich helped take down both Saginaw and then Ottawa. He’s a champion. He will help change the culture there. But the Firebirds didn’t stop there. They grabbed someone else from Guelph as well.
The Firebirds addressed their goaltending. Now they address their blue line as well. The Storm sent Lalonde to the Firebirds on Saturday in exchange for Michael Bianconi, a 2021 second, a 2022 second and two conditional picks. Those picks are 2024 second and a 2022 fifth if Lalonde plays his overage season.
“Owen is a talented veteran presence that brings with him championship experience and is a talented, high character person. Owen will play a key role with our hockey club moving forward,” GM Barclay Branch said.
Now couple this with the return of captain Ty Dellandrea and the rest of their talented forwards and you have a team that is going for it all. It wouldn’t be surprising if more moves are coming.
Some thought the Firebirds might move Dellandrea now that he’s back. There’s no way that’s happening now. This team deserves this chance to try to take their best shot.
The Dort is in underrated building to watch hockey. When packed, it’s a loud barn that makes for a great hockey atmosphere.
In a tough Western Conference, it will be interesting to see how far the Firebirds can go. London, Saginaw and Kitchener come to mind as the class of the conference. Owen Sound and Sault Ste. Marie are there too.
No matter what happens, the Firebirds are doing the right thing and giving some excitement for the fans and their city. That’s never a bad thing.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.