OHL’s Flint Firebirds fire, re-hire coaching staff


It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours for the Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League.

Immediately following yesterday’s 4-3 overtime win against the Oshawa Generals, in which the Firebirds came back from a 3-1 deficit to secure the victory, team owner Rolf Nilsen fired his coaching staff—including head coach John Gruden and assistant coach Dave Karpa.

After learning of the firings, the entire Firebirds roster of 24 players, went up to the owners office, threw their jerseys on the ground and quit. Complicating matters further was the fact that Nilsen’s son, rookie defenseman Hakon Nilsen, plays on the team and quit in protest along with the rest of the club.

(And rumors persist that the initial reason for the firing was because the coaching staff wasn’t playing Hakon enough…)

Now comes word that Gruden and Karpa have been re-hired by Nilsen, who released a statement saying he made a mistake by firing his coaching staff in an irresponsible decision in an emotional moment.

“Last night, after our emotional shootout game against the Oshawa Generals, I made a decision with regards to our coaching staff, which was an irresponsible mistake,” Nilsen said in the statement.  “This morning, we took steps to immediately reinstate the coaches.  Today, the team’s senior leadership met with the players to apologize and have a very frank discussion about next steps leading to a resolution.”

According to the statement, OHL commissioner David Branch was in Flint today to meet with all parties involved.

“We are fully cooperating with this OHL investigation and we will look to their leadership to help us continue to grow as a team,” Nilsen said. “The Flint Firebirds’ management remains committed to providing the best hockey experience for our players, our fans and the Flint & Genesee County community.”

The Firebirds are currently in their first year of operation after moving from Plymouth, Mich. The team is currently ninth in their 10-team division with a 7-9-0-1. Their next game is Friday against the Sarnia Sting.

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