There really hasn’t been another junior team in the Canadian Hockey League that has had as many off-ice issues as the Flint Firebirds have.
In just their first season in Flint, Michigan, the team has been in the headlines on a few separate occasions when owner Rolf Nilsen fired his coaching staff twice for not playing his kid, Håkon Nilsen, as often as the Norwegian businessmen would have liked to have seen.
With Actions Comes Reactions
OHL Commissioner David Branch has had a real issue facing him over the past few weeks, after it was reported that many players in the upcoming OHL Priority Selection Draft wouldn’t report to Flint if they were drafted to the Firebirds.
With that, the OHL took action beginning with beginning an investigation that was conducted by Terrence O’Sullivan of the law firm of Lax O’Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb LLP. The investigation found that Nilsen had violated a signed agreement between himself and the OHL, that was signed on November 11, 2015, shortly after the first instance of popular former coach John Gruden being relieved of his duties.
Among the sanctions against Nilsen include a five-year suspension from being involved in hockey operations, as well as a $250,000 fine for the owner.
Perhaps the biggest punishment for the Firebirds front office, is that the team now forfeits their first-round pick (3rd overall) in the 2016 Priority Selection Draft.
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) April 6, 2016
Whether it's regarding discipline or ownership, you have to respect David Branch's no-nonsense approach, https://t.co/HqTYatKGUY
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) April 6, 2016
Nilsen is eligible for apply for reinstatement after three seasons. The OHL will continue to manager the Firebirds, which includes Joe Birch of the league remaining as director of hockey operations.
The OHL Priority Selection takes place Saturday, April 9, 2016. Fans and players can follow the draft action through the league’s online draft show which can be found here.
A general manager and head coach of the Flint club will be announced at a later date.
Ben Smith covers the CHL for The Hockey Writers. He also writes for HockeyNow Magazine, FlamesNation and SB Nation.