Tagged: Flint Firebirds

Western Conference Playoff Preview: Spitfires and Knights highlight first round

By: Bryan Thiel

Entering the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, the Western Conference looks nearly unstoppable. The top five teams all have a realistic chance at going to the OHL Finals, and one of the top four could end up at the Mastercard Memorial Cup alongside the Windsor Spitfires.

This should be fun.

1) Erie Otters vs 8) Sarnia Sting


DeBrincat and the Otters are prepared for a deep run.

Up front: Alex DeBrincat. Dylan Strome. Taylor Raddysh. Anthony Cirelli. That’s not even fair, because that’s only half of the truly dangerous firepower they offer. They were the second-highest scoring team in the CHL and one of just three teams across the nation to score more than 300 goals. Jordan Kyrou had an outstanding season for Sarnia and Drake Rymsha is just shy of a goal-per-game pace since coming over from Ottawa, but it’ll be hard for the Sting to keep up.

On the blueline: Kitchener Rangers Head Coach Jay McKee told me that Erie doesn’t get enough credit for how good they are defensively, and he’s right. Even if you ignore the fact that Darren Raddysh led all defencemen in scoring, they haven’t allowed more than 25 shots in any of their last six games (Which includes two against London, and one against both Peterborough and Windsor). Sarnia struggled to keep the puck out of their own net, finishing with 277 goals against (second-worst in the West). Continue reading


Summer Camp: OHL’ers at NHL Development Camps

By: Bryan Thiel

Each year NHL teams hold Development Camps for recently drafted/signed prospects, and to get a good look at some of the players that didn’t get draft but might be worth an entry-level contract.

Sometimes it can be hard to keep track of just who’s going where during the summer, so we’ve broken it down below, going team-by-team through the NHL. As some teams have not released a full roster, this list will be updated as information becomes available. Continue reading

Five OHL Winners from the 2016 NHL Draft

By: Bryan Thiel


Adam Mascherin was all smiles after becoming a 2nd round pick. (Courtesy: Florida Panthers)

This past weekend saw the dreams of 211 young men come to fruition at the 2016 NHL Draft. Among those 211 players, 48 were selected from the OHL, including nine in the first round.

The 48 players is tied for the most OHL’ers selected in a draft since 1999. Along with that, for just the second time since 1989 three players were selected from one OHL team in the first round (And it actually happened twice on Friday with the Windsor Spitfires and London Knights).

When it comes to those 48 players from the OHL and the 211 members of the draft class, they’re all winners. At the end of the day, they all took a step towards the ultimate goal of playing in the NHL and you can never take that away from them. But, just for fun, here are five players that came away with a little something more from draft weekend. Continue reading

OHL Announces Home Openers for OHL’s Opening Week

By: Bryan Thiel


The OHL announced the home openers for all 20 teams on Tuesday (Courtesy: OHL).

The OHL announced the schedule for all 20 home openers during 2016/17  Opening Week on Tuesday. All 20 teams will play their home openers between Wednesday, September 21st and Saturday, October 1st.

You can see the schedule below:

(*Indicates a playoff matchup from the 2016 playoffs; Home team is in capitals)

Wednesday, September 21st:

SARNIA STING vs London Knights

FLINT FIREBIRDS vs Saginaw Spirit Continue reading

OHL Hands Out Discipline to Flint Firebirds and Rolf Nilsen

By: Bryan Thiel

The OHL handed out the discipline in the curious case of the Flint Firebirds’ this afternoon, and Commissioner David Branch was not happy with what a private investigation discovered.

Based upon an investigation at my request by Terrence O’Sullivan of the law firm of Lax O’Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb LLP, I am satisfied that Rolf Nilsen of the Flint Firebirds has on several occasions violated an agreement he signed on the 11th day of November, 2015, between himself and the OHL.  Those violations are contrary to the best interests of the players, the Team, and the OHL.

There are three layers to the discipline handed down by Branch in the release:

  • Rolf Nilsen be suspended by the OHL from being involved directly or indirectly with hockey operations of the Flint Firebirds for five (5) years effective immediately;
  • The Flint Firebirds forfeit a first round draft pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection (third pick overall);
  • A fine be paid by Rolf Nilsen to the League in the amount of Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars ($250,000.00)

Obviously the biggest sanctions fall against Nilsen, who has been embroiled in controversy since acquiring the team, including the player walkout this all stems from after Head Coach John Gruden was fired in early November, reportedly centering around son Hakon Nilsen’s ice time.

If he were to violate the terms handed down by branch, Rolf Nilsen would be forced to sell 100% of his stake in the team. In addition, if Nilsen wants to apply for some form of reinstatement, he has to wait three years before doing so.

For the Firebirds, the loss of the third overall selection doesn’t take them out of the first round. Before this they had two first round selections at third and fifth (Ryan McLeod refused to report last year and was traded to Mississauga). The Hamilton Bulldogs now select third.

Joe Birch will continue working with the franchise as Director of Hockey Operations, as they’ll look to fill vacancies at Head Coach, General Manager, and throughout the Hockey Ops staff.

Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who has covered the OHL from rink-side and the broadcast booth. He has also helped produce OHL features for the past four seasons. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanThiel_88.

Recapping the OHL Trade Deadline: Player Rights, Massive Deals, and Who Needs Draft Picks?

By Bryan Thiel (@BryanThiel_88)


The OHL Trade Deadline is where teams decide if this is their year, or it’s ‘wait until next year’; are they contenders or pretenders?

This year, the league seems wide open with teams on both sides loading up at the deadline. 59 draft picks (10 of those conditional) changed hands between January 1st and 11th, with five trades involving one team surrendering four or more picks.

At the end of the day, it’ll only be worth it for one team: the one who claims the J. Ross Robinson Cup and moves on to the Mastercard Memorial Cup. Last year the Oshawa Generals made good on some savvy moves around the deadline, winning the league and claiming the title of the best team in the CHL.

Fittingly, we start with the defending champs when looking at some of the league’s biggest deadline dealings.

Recouping Assets

Last year Oshawa acquired Matt Mistele, Dakota Mermis, Michael McCarron, and Brent Pedersen among others. The price tag included Ryan Moore, Cliff Pu and a handful of picks. The moves obviously worked out, but for many championship teams the season after is one of regaining assets. Before the deadline they were able to get three picks for Mistele and four picks (plus some conditionals) for Stephen Desrocher from Kingston. The big deal was still yet to come however:

Oshawa sends Michael Dal Colle to Kingston for Robbie Burt, Flint’s 2nd round pick in 2017, Kingston’s 2nd round pick in 2019, and 3rd round picks in 2018 and 2022.

The Generals would mix in deals with London (Getting Eric Henderson for Jacob Graves and a pick) and Guelph (Justin Nichols for picks), but trading the Isles’ prospect who pulled in 31 points in 21 games during last year’s playoffs (while adding in the other moves) is a good way to set yourself up for the future.

Boom or Bust

One of the biggest names floating around at the deadline was former OHL first overall pick Travis Konecny. Rumours had him going all over the Western Conference but one team stepped up in an eye-popping way.

Ottawa sends Travis Konecny, Sam Studnicka and a 3rd round pick in 2016 to Sarnia for Chase Campbell, Sasha Chmelevski, Owen Sound’s 2nd round pick in 2016, Sault Ste. Marie’s 2nd round pick in 2017, Sarnia’s 2nd round pick in 2019 and 3rd round picks in 2019 and 2020,Windsor’s 3rd round pick in 2017, Saginaw’s 5th round pick in 2017, Oshawa’s 5th round pick in 2019, and two conditional picks (Sarnia’s 2nd round picks in 2021 and 2022).

There’s pressure in Sarnia to have some form of playoff success, which brought about the Sting’s activity at the deadline (which included picking up Charlie Graham). The last two series they won in the playoffs? 1996/97 and 2007/08, both vs Windsor. That’s nearly 20 years with just two visits to the second round. What makes this boom or bust is how difficult the Western Conference is this year. The Windsor Spitfires got better too and have a seven point lead in the division (although Sarnia has played three fewer games) and Sarnia is 12 points behind the Erie/London/Kitchener trio. Basically, the Sting have to go on a run and win the division, because there’s a very good chance they could have made some serious moves to simply finish fifth in the West.

On the flip side, if both Konecny and Pavel Zacha are with the Sting next year and the team struggles, they have the opportunity to flip both in an attempt to get some of those picks back like they did with Hayden Hodgson.

Mad Dash for the Central

The Central Division is crazy right now. Barrie leads the division with 49 points, but Niagara (47), Mississauga (46) and North Bay (44) are all within striking distance. The Steelheads added Mason Marchment at the deadline, while Niagara made moves for Stephen Harper and Tyler Boston, along with an early December swap for Alex Nedeljkovic and Josh Wesley. So what was left for the Barrie Colts?

Saginaw sends Dylan Sadowy and Gregory Di Tomaso to Barrie for Rocky Kaura, Barrie’s 2nd round picks in 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2021, 3rd round picks in 2017 and 2018, a 4th round pick in 2018, a 5th round pick in 2020, Kingston’s 4th round pick in 2016, and two conditional picks (Barrie’s 2nd round pick in 2022 and 3rd round pick in 2023).

The Colts were also able to add Keigan Goetz from Sault Ste. Marie, Cameron Lizotte from Peterborough, and Anthony Stefano from Windsor in December in an effort to keep the rest of the division at arm’s length. The bright side for Barrie is that they’re essentially in the reverse of Sarnia’s situation. With Ottawa the second-best team in the East Division at 42 points, there’s a good chance the Colts could pull off a third-place (or a worst-case scenario fourth) finish in the East if they can’t hold the Central.

The ‘Rights’ Fit

It’s not often that you see a player’s rights traded in the middle of the season. It’s even rarer that you see it happen twice. That’s exactly what happened though, when two Midwest Division rivals went after a pair of pro players.

Guelph trades Robby Fabbri to Kitchener for Kitchener’s 3rd round pick in 2020 and two conditional picks (Saginaw’s 2nd round pick in 2018 and Kitchener’s 2nd round pick in 2019).

Flint trades Sonny Milano to London for a conditional 15th round pick in 2016 (Pick becomes Sudbury’s 2nd round pick in 2019 and North Bay’s 4th round pick in 2016 if Milano plays in the OHL).

First let’s deal with what the players would bring. If Milano were to play for London this year, he would likely give them the best group of forwards in the OHL. With half a year of AHL hockey under his belt, a bronze medal from the World Juniors, and a 68 points last year in Plymouth, the Knights would add another dynamic talent (on top of getting 2015 Import Daniel Bernhardt to come overseas at the deadline) to their group of forwards. For Kitchener, they get a highly-skilled OHL champion with NHL experience, and a penchant for playing beyond his size.

Now when both of these trades went down, the immediate question asked was “what do these teams know that we don’t?” For Fabbri, St. Louis is extremely happy with him. There was a lot of talk about him going the other way in a trade for Ryan Johansen, but the Blues wouldn’t budge. And just before he played his 10th game in the NHL this year, a source said that it would be ‘shocking’ were Fabbri to be sent down at all this year.

So it seems that the Rangers simply took a chance that an elite OHL’er could be headed back to junior, and on the off-chance he is demoted, they add a huge weapon for a price they don’t need to worry about until 2020.

For the Knights, the connections between Jarmo Kekalainen and Basil McRae were brought up and people cited Milano’s AHL numbers as a reason he could be OHL bound. On top of that the belief that ‘if the Knights want him, they’ll get him’ had people predicting Milano would land in London last Friday at the earliest. But if you want an idea of just how sure the Knights are that Milano would come back to the OHL, maybe the price is an indication.

A 15th round pick doesn’t give off the impression that Milano is leaving Lake Erie. While Flint has had its controversies this year, one would think that if they had heard anything on the Milano front, the initial price would be much higher. Plus, Milano wasn’t drafted out of the OHL, so he can stay in the AHL as long as Columbus wants him there. Someone along the line could have said there ‘might be a chance’ of it happening and, like the Fabbri situation, it makes sense for a team with playoff aspirations to take the gamble ‘just in case’.

Overall it was another crazy OHL Trade Deadline. People want to know the winners and losers right away, but we won’t know who won until we see who the last team standing is. For one team, that will make this hectic start to January all worth it.

Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who has covered the OHL from rink-side and the broadcast booth. He has also helped produce OHL features for the past four seasons. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanThiel_88.




Firebirds’ Weekend the Latest in a Series of OHL Family Affairs

By Bryan Thiel (@BryanThiel_88)

The Ontario Hockey League lays claim to being the top developmental league in the world, as it prepares teenagers for the next step in achieving their dreams of one day playing in the NHL. The track record of the OHL speaks for itself: seven of the last nine first overall picks have come from the OHL, 203 players across the past five drafts were selected out of Ontario, and five of the last eight Calder trophy winners got their start in the OHL. Those teenagers face bright lights and note pads, rabid fans, and increasing amounts of pressure each day they spend playing junior hockey, answering for their actions no matter how big or small.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always stop at just their actions.
The thing with teenagers is that they come with parents; parents that (in some cases) have grown accustomed to leaning on a coach to get their child more ice time or better line-mates. Parents are vocal because, in their mind, they’re looking out for their child’s best interests. Once their kid moves to junior, most don’t have the power to really be able to do anything about a situation they’re unhappy with.
Some do, however. And that’s what got brought to the forefront once again this week in Flint.
By now you know that Rolf Nilsen, a man who has seen his fair share of success in the business world, is the owner of the Flint Firebirds. His Firebirds are the team that selected his son Hakon, a defenceman, in the seventh round of the franchise’s first-ever OHL Priority Selection this past spring. Those same Firebirds were front and centre Sunday night when (after a stirring comeback win over Memorial Cup champion Oshawa) Rolf relieved Head Coach John Gruden and staff of their responsibilities, frustrated by Gruden’s deployment of his son on the blueline.
Hakon was playing in just his fifth OHL game that night after tearing his meniscus during the pre-season. He played 17 minutes (including power-play time) on Sunday, but it was unsatisfactory. The coaches were fired, the players (including Hakon) responded by handing in their jerseys, and so began the stand-off that Commissioner David Branch would help see to a resolution on Monday afternoon.
Throughout the ordeal, Hakon was firmly in the corner of his teammates and coaches. That left his father alone and backtracking Monday, offering a stiff apology to the team and handing over three-year contracts to Gruden and company.
Just over a year ago, it was another teenager that had the foresight his father (and team owner) did not. Connor Burgess had become a lightning rod for the struggles of the Sudbury Wolves. Caught between his father’s hopes that he would find his footing at the OHL level and a fan base that was less-than-pleased with his performance and further maddened by the direction the team was heading, Connor stepped away. In deciding to focus his attention towards his studies, he separated himself from a situation that had become a no-win for everyone involved. It had driven people out of the organization, content to start somewhere else, far away from a situation that had no happy ending.
In a league devoted to development, these are just the most recent in a long line of instances that have seen a parent and teen wind up on the same team. Not all of these stories end so publicly or painfully though.
Matt Hoyle spent an uneven 16 games with the Guelph Storm in 2009/10 where his father Rick is a co-owner. Dale Hunter had sons Dylan and Tucker Hunter play for him in London along with nephews Logan Hunter and Rick Steadman. Mike Foligno had both sons Nick and Marcus join him in Sudbury when he was Head Coach, while in Windsor Warren Rychel traded for his son Kerby during the 2010/11 season, watching him play parts of four seasons for the Spitfires.
Controversy even found its way to the Ottawa 67’s last year when Jeff Brown took over as head coach. At the time, Brown’s son Logan had yet to commit to the Niagara IceDogs. With rumours swirling that he might follow his father to the Nation’s Capital as a defected player; the elder Brown was forced to quiet them at his introductory press conference. “I’ve coached him his whole life,” Jeff said. “It’s time for someone else to coach him.”
While the 67’s did admit that there’s possibility they could unite father and son one day, the organization took the time to discuss those swirling rumours head on in hopes of steering away from potential trouble.
This past weekend’s events involving the Nilsens have sparked a conversation about whether or not an organization that employs (or is owned by) a parent should be allowed to draft the son. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that this gets brought up one day to the OHL’s Board of Governors, but right now everything is too fresh. With the dust still settling on the weekend, the league will take a step back and let everything decompress before it even thinks about discussing anything.
But if you’re looking for an easy solution to prevent things like this in the future, there isn’t one. Someone’s parents will always own or coach a team, and eventually their kids will be old enough to play. Once they reach the league, people will always talk.
We just have to hope the influential voices have learned from the faults of others.

Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who has covered the OHL from rink-side and the broadcast booth. He has also helped produce OHL features for the past four seasons. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanThiel_88.