OHL Firebirds in chaos after coach, owner suspended
The renegade owner of the Ontario League's Flint Firebirds has been suspended pending an investigation into the team's operations.
Rolf Nilsen was hit by the unprecedented sanctions on Thursday as a result of his decision to fire head coach John Gruden and assistant Dave Karpa for the second time this season.
"The Ontario League takes the health and well being of our players very seriously," Commissioner David Branch said in a 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."
Along with Nilsen, Branch also suspended his appointees on the management and coaching staff, including interim coach Sergei Kharin.
There's no word yet on who will be behind the bench for Thursday's home game against the top-ranked Erie Otters, or if the players will even show up. TSN reported Hakon Nilsen, the son of Rolf Nilsen, was the only Firebirds player to show up for a morning skate on Thursday.
Branch said that he will be 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 possible the commissioner could assume coaching duties for the team on an interim basis.
Nilsen originally ran afoul of the league when he fired Gruden and Karpa in November after becoming frustrated with the ice time given to his son. That decision led the players, including the younger Nilsen, to quit the team en masse.
The coach was forced to admit that he made an "irresponsible mistake." He reinstated the two coaches the following day.
UPDATE: Ken Campbell is reporting that Flint head scout Joe Stefan will assume coaching duties for the Firebirds. It's believed he'll hold the position for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Bob McKenzie says the league has appointed OHL Senior Director of Hockey Operations Joe Birch to serve as the director of hockey ops for the team.