OHL commissioner David Branch came down swiftly and decisively against Flint Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen, who fired his coach and assistant coach yesterday for the second time this season.
One player on the Flint Firebirds was told that Joe Stefan, the team’s head scout, will be behind the bench when the beleaguered team faces the Erie Otters its scheduled Ontario League game Thursday night. And he will likely stay there the rest of this season.
The players have a meeting with OHL commissioner David Branch at 4 p.m. at a Flint hotel where they will learn who will coach the team tonight and what the plan is moving forward for the remainder of this season.
Stefan, 49, is the brother of former NHL goaltender Greg Stefan and was an associate coach of the Plymouth Whalers when they were owned by Peter Karmanos. The team was sold and moved to Flint over the summer and Stefan, who stepped down as associate coach in 2014 to become the head scout, followed the team to Flint. One reason why Stefan was considered a good choice is that he was not part of new owner Rolf Nilsen’s inner circle.
It’s believed that the players would not have played if Sergei Kharin, the coach Nilsen installed after firing coach John Gruden and assistant coach Dave Karpa yesterday, had been behind the bench. The players refused to allow Kharin to run practice yesterday and instead ran it themselves.
Branch travelled to Flint this morning after the firestorm erupted yesterday and acted quickly, suspending Nilsen and Kharin until further notice. He issued the following statement:
The Ontario Hockey League takes the health and well being of our players very seriously. 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 league announces the following sanctions effective immediately:
- Mr. Nilsen and his appointees on the management and coaching staff including Sergei Kharin are suspended from Flint Firebirds’ hockey operations until further notice;
- The Flint Firebirds at their cost, under the direction of the League, shall provide counselling services for players;
- Rolf Nilsen and representatives of the Flint Firebirds shall co-operate with the Commissioner and the League in investigations into the conduct and actions of the Flint Firebirds and its representatives, employees, officers and directors;
In addition, the League will continue to investigate the actions of Rolf Nilsen and other representatives of the Flint Firebirds and will take any action and impose any sanctions that are deemed appropriate by the Commissioner.
Later today, the League will be meeting with the players in Flint to further discuss the situation, and to ensure that they are provided the appropriate supports. These discussions and supports will be ongoing for the players and their families.
It’s not known exactly what the future will hold for Nilsen, who bought the team and originally fired Gruden and Karpa in November in a dispute over ice time for his son, Hakon, who is a defenseman for the team. The father of the team’s leading scorer, Will Bitten, told thn.com Wednesday night that his son would play out the rest of this season, but would not return to the Firebirds if Nilsen still owned the team.
It’s believed the OHL’s Board of Governors has the power to remove an owner if it feels that person has acted in ways detrimental to the league.