One day after the Flint Firebirds fired coaches John Gruden and Dave Karpa for the second time this season, OHL commissioner David Branch has stepped in and levied sanctions against owner Rolf Nilsen and the Firebirds organization.
In a statement Thursday, Branch announced that, effective immediately, Nilsen and “his appointees on the management and coaching staff including Sergei Kharin” have been suspended until further notice. Kharin was named as the team’s interim coach Wednesday. In addition, the Firebirds will have to provide counselling services to the players at the organization’s expense, while Nilsen and all involved in the organization will have to cooperate in an investigation into the “conduct and actions” of the team.
“The Ontario League takes the health and well being of our players very seriously,” Branch said in his statement. “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.”
Branch said the league continue to investigate Nilsen’s actions, as well as those of other team representatives. Branch added he will “take any action and impose any sanctions that are deemed appropriate.”
Flint’s season has been marred by controversy. Gruden and Karpa were fired in November under bizarre circumstances. The firings were reportedly tied to the ice time of Nilsen’s son, Hakon, a defenseman for the Firebirds. Players from the Firebirds walked out on the organization after the firings, but the OHL intervened and both Gruden and Karpa were re-instated and given contract extensions. However, both Gruden and Karpa were shown the door again Wednesday when the Firebirds announced their firings for the second time this season.
Michael Bitten, the father of Flint’s leading scorer Will Bitten, told THN’s Ken Campbell Wednesday that players were upset Gruden and Karpa had been let go again.
“I defy you to find anybody who will say a bad word about John Gruden or Dave Karpa,” Michael Bitten told Campbell. “I told David Branch that these are the types of coaches the OHL should want.”
Branch said the league will be meeting with Firebirds players Thursday to “discuss the situation, and to ensure that they are provided the appropriate supports.” Branch added the league’s discussions with players and their families will be ongoing, as will the supports.
The Firebirds are currently ninth in the 10-team Western Conference with a 16-31-6 record. Flint is scheduled to host the league-leading Erie Otters Thursday, and, according to Bitten, the players will suit up if the contest is to go on as scheduled. There has been no indication of who will coach the team.