The Firebirds reportedly quit en masse after coach John Gruden and staff were turfed by owner Rolf Nilsen. The source of the rift? Allegedly, Gruden wasn’t playing Nilsen’s son enough. It’s a bizarre situation in Michigan right now.
Players from the OHL’s Flint Firebirds have reportedly quit the team en masse after coach John Gruden and his staff were fired Sunday night. In what is still a developing story, the cause of the firing revolved around the ice time given to 17-year-old Hakon Nilsen, who is the son of owner Rolf Nilsen.
As first reported by OHLInsiders, the upheaval came after the Firebirds beat the Oshawa Generals when players got word of the firing. Hakon Nilsen also reportedly quit the team along with his fellow players. According the ESPN’s John Buccigross, the players went up to the front office upon learning the news and literally threw their jerseys on the ground before walking out.
Gruden was in his first year of coaching the franchise, which had just moved from Plymouth. Though the Firebirds are at the bottom of the standings with a record of 7-9-1, they weren’t expected to be contenders this season. The franchise does have several NHL prospects on the roster, including goalie Alex Nedeljkovic (Carolina), defenseman Vili Saarijarvi (Detroit) and power forward Connor Chatham (New Jersey). Center Will Bitten is also a top-50 prospect for this summer’s draft.
A full-scale revolution is no good for any junior franchise, but the Firebirds are in an even more tenuous position. There was skepticism from the outset about moving the Plymouth franchise to a city so closely linked with crime and poverty, even if the players actually billet in a nearby suburb. Not only that, but neither Gruden nor GM Terry Christensen had ever worked in major junior before, though it seems that Gruden wasn’t having any problems motivating his team.
More on this story as it develops.