Flint Firebirds players quit team after coach is fired


There’s a remarkable story playing out in junior hockey in which the Flint Firebirds of the OHL quit their team after their coach was fired. And it all seems to stem from nepotism.

As Yahoo Sports’ junior hockey blog Buzzing The Net reports, the Firebirds defeated Oshawa in an OHL game on Sunday, coming back and winning in overtime. After the game, the coaching staff, and head coach John Gruden, was fired by team management.

That prompted the entire team, 24 players, to go to the front office, throw their jerseys on the ground and walk out, according to ESPN’s John Buccigross.

Why was Gruden fired? Neate Sager of Yahoo Sports reports that “the firing evidently stemmed from Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen's displeasure regarding the amount of ice time that his son, 17-year-old rookie defenceman Håkon Nilsen, had been receiving.”

And yet Håkon Nilsen was one of the players who also quit the team.

From OHL Insiders:

Gruden and Asst. Coach Dave Karpa were fired as a result of owner Rolf Nilsen’s son Hakon, not receiving enough ice time in the eyes of ownership. There was more than one occasion where GM and owner Rolf Nilsen were coming down pleading with coaches to play him more. They were even asking for PP/PK time.

Following today’s post game skate, the coaches told the players of their news. It is then that all players walked up stairs and handed in their jerseys went to the equipment room and packed their bags.

OHL Insiders reports there’s a noon meeting with commissioner David Branch in an attempt to salvage this situation.

Sager’s take:

Coaches taking heat over how much ice time the owner's son gets is probably as old as junior hockey itself. Nevertheless, it comes off as petty and bush-league when it occurs in the self-proclaimed best developmental league in the world. A league aspiring to that status should be above this, and assuming the reports are true, the Firebirds players cannot be faulted for asserting that they are not onside with the front office politics being played here.

Much more on this as it develops.


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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.