Flint Firebirds sanctioned by OHL for firing coaching staff
Team fired coach Gruden, assistant Karpa for 2nd time
The Ontario Hockey League has suspended Flint Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen, management and coaching staff after the team's decision to fire their coaching staff for the second time this season.
The OHL issued a statement on Thursday reading that it has issued three sanctions against the team, effective immediately.
"The recent actions by the owner of the Flint Firebirds, Rolf Nilsen, and his representatives on the management team and coaching staff is of great concern as they pose a serious threat to our commitment to our players and their families," the OHL said Thursday in a statement.
The Firebirds announced Wednesday that head coach and general manager John Gruden and assistant coach Dave Karpa had been fired "effective immediately," with director of hockey operations Sergei Kharin named interim head coach.
In addition to the suspensions, the team will offer counselling to players at its own expense and Nilsen and team representatives "shall co-operate with the Commissioner and the League in investigations into the conduct and actions of the Flint Firebirds."
League officials planned to meet with the players in Flint later Thursday to discuss the situation. The Firebirds lost 5-2 to the Erie Otters on Thursday, with Joe Stefan assuming the role of head coach and Pat Peake, who served on the coaching staff for two seasons when the franchise was in Plymouth, Mich., serving as his assistant.
Flint fired Gruden, Karpa and assistant coach Petr Jonak, who keeps his position with the team this time around, on Nov. 8 before reinstating them the next day.
"It has come to the league's attention that the Flint Firebirds ownership has once again made significant changes to their coaching staff," OHL commissioner David Branch said in a statement Wednesday. "This change, the manner in which it occurred and the way it was communicated to the players and to the league, is of great concern."
The players and their playing experience is of the utmost importance to the league and we will continue to work to ensure that they are treated with respect.- OHL commissioner David Branch on the firing of Flint head coach John Gruden for a 2nd time this season
Branch said the league had been in contact with the Firebirds captain Alex Peters and intends to meet with the rest of the players and their families soon.
"The players and their playing experience is of the utmost importance to the league and we will continue to work to ensure that they are treated with respect," Branch said. "It is the league's intention to immediately review the actions of the Flint Firebirds before we determine the next steps we will take to address this situation."
According to reports, the Firebirds had originally fired Gruden and Karpa in November because Nilsen felt his son, defenceman Hakon Nilsen, was not receiving enough playing time. Reports said each Flint player, including the owner's son, handed in his jersey and quit in response.
Ownership called the firings an "irresponsible mistake" the next day and re-hired Gruden, Karpa and Jonak. Gruden took on a GM role with the team in January.
The team announced Joe Stefan will take on the role of head coach for Thursday's game against the Erie Otters and Pat Peake, who served on the coaching staff for two season when the franchise was in Plymouth, will be the assistant coach.
Assistant General Manager, Joe Stefan and former Plymouth Whaler Pat Peake will be on the bench for the Firebirds tonight.—@FlintFirebirds
The Firebirds are ninth in the Western Conference with an 11-31-6 record. They've dropped back-to-back games and eight of their last 10.
With files from the OHL and CBC Sports