Flint Firebirds

The Flint Firebirds are a major junior ice hockey team based in Flint, Michigan. The team plays home games at the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center, and operates as a member of Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The team began play for the 2015–16 season. In June 2019, the Firebirds announced the Leamington Flyers (GOJHL) as an affiliate.[2]

Flint Firebirds
Flint Firebirds logo.svg
CityFlint, Michigan
LeagueOntario Hockey League
Founded1990 (1990)
Home arenaDort Federal Credit Union Event Center
ColorsNavy Blue, White, Orange and Silver
Owner(s)Rolf Nilsen (suspended)[1]
General managerBarclay Branch
Head coachEric Wellwood
Affiliate(s)Leamington Flyers (GOJHL)
Franchise history
1990–1992Detroit Compuware Ambassadors
1992–1995Detroit Junior Red Wings
1995–1997Detroit Whalers
1997–2015Plymouth Whalers
2015–presentFlint Firebirds


The Firebirds trace their roots back to the 1990–91 season, when the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors were added as an expansion team in the OHL. Since then, the franchise has been the Detroit Junior Red Wings, the Detroit Whalers and the Plymouth Whalers. On January 14, 2015, it was announced that longtime Whalers owner Peter Karmanos had sold the team to IMS USA, Inc., with the intention to move the franchise to Flint and the Perani Arena.[3][4] The purchase and relocation was approved by the OHL on February 2, 2015.[5][6]

Although there was sentiment towards resurrecting the Flint Generals nickname that had been used by two past teams in the city, the OHL quickly nixed that idea because of the Oshawa Generals using that name.[7] Likewise, a popular suggestion was the Flint Tropics, after the fictional American Basketball Association team of that name in the 2008 movie Semi-Pro.[8] However, after various others voiced their displeasure at their team possibly being named after a comedy movie's protagonist team, and the chance of the novelty wearing off after a while, the name did not make the list of finalist choices.[9][10][11]

The nine finalist nicknames were Firebirds, Force, Fury, Nationals, Pride, Spark Plugs, Sparks, United, and Vikings.[12]

Coaching staff controversiesEdit

The Firebirds garnered international attention in November 2015 when, following an overtime victory over the Oshawa Generals, owner Rolf Nilsen fired the team's entire coaching staff for failing to adequately increase the playing time of his son, Håkon Nilsen, a Firebirds' defenseman described by one NHL player agent as "a borderline OHL player".[13] Prior to the game against Oshawa, the entire team with the exception of Hakon Nilsen met with head coach John Gruden and his staff and were informed that the owner had insisted that his son receive more playing time, and indeed Nilsen ultimately played 17 minutes, including power-play time, in the subsequent game.[13] However, head coach John Gruden has denied that this was the reason for his dismissal.[14] In response to the firings, the entire team, including Håkon Nilsen, stormed into the team's front office, threw their jerseys on the floor, and quit the team in a show of solidarity with the coaching staff.[15]

The player revolt proved to be successful, as less than 24 hours later the coaching staff was not only rehired, but given three year contract extensions.[16] Following a meeting with OHL commissioner David Branch, Firebirds' owner Rolf Nilsen stated publicly that he had made an "irresponsible mistake" and apologized to the players.[17]

On February 17, 2016, Rolf Nilsen again fired head coach John Gruden and assistant coach Dave Karpa.[18] The next day, OHL Commissioner David Branch suspended Nilsen, as well as his appointees on the management and coaching staff, from hockey operations until further notice. The league also ordered counseling be provided to players, at Nilsen's cost. Nilsen and his staff were then ordered to cooperate with a league investigation and comply with its findings.[19][20] On April 6, 2016, the OHL suspended Nilsen for five years (would be eligible to apply to be reinstated in three years) and fined him $250,000. The league also declared the franchise would forfeit their 2016 first-round draft pick. If Nilsen does get involved in hockey operations while suspended, the OHL could order Nilsen to sell 100% ownership interest in the Firebirds. The OHL placed the Firebirds under league stewardship and appointed Joe Birch as director of operations.[21]

Recent historyEdit

The Flint Firebirds Locker Room

In May 2016, the OHL named George Burnett, former head coach and general manager of the Belleville Bulls, as the new general manager. The OHL then appointed Ryan Oulahen as head coach and Eric Wellwood as an assistant.[22] On October 12, 2018, Ryan Oulahen stepped down as head coach.[23] On October 18, former associate coach Eric Wellwood was named head coach.[24]

On February 21, 2020, the Firebirds won their 15th consecutive game, setting a new franchise record. It was their 37th win of the season, another club record.[25]

I-75 CupEdit

Since coming to Flint, the Firebirds have won the I-75 Divide Cup against rivals Saginaw Spirit 2 years in a row. They first took it home during their inaugural season on March 1, 2016 with a 6-5 overtime win. They took it home in front of a home crowd at Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center. Then, again in 2017, the Firebirds won it again with a 4-1 win on February 26, 2017 at the Dow Event Center.[citation needed]

Firebirds' facilitiesEdit

The video theatre in the Flint Firebirds dressing room

When the Plymouth Whalers moved to Flint in the summer of 2015, the owner of the Flint Firebirds Rolf Nilsen invested more than $4 million into the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center. As part of the renovations, Nilsen had a $1 million dressing room, video theatre, player's lounge, weight room and equipment and medical facilities constructed for the Firebirds players, as well as a pro-style room for the visiting teams. Additionally, new LED lighting and a seven camera HD production video board was installed in the main arena. A state-of-the-art suite was built on the third floor of the north west side of the bowl for NHL scouts and out-of-town media. Through the upgrades, the Firebirds also became the first United States based team to meet the necessary requirements to have all 34 of their home games televised live on the OHL Action Pak throughout Ontario, which is the league-wide TV package available on various cable television providers such as EastLink TV, Cogeco, Rogers TV and Shaw TV.[citation needed]

Radio and TVEdit

Games can be heard live on WQUS (103.1 FM), with Dominic Hennig on play-by-play, while their weekly coach's show can be heard live on WWBN (101.5 FM) on Tuesdays at 6:00–7:00 PM ET during the regular season, hosted by Dominic Hennig and Maggie Meadows.[26]

Games can be viewed on local Comcast television systems in Michigan, several systems in Canada, and online on OHL Live.[26]


Team captainsEdit

  • 2015–2017 Alex Peters
  • 2017–2018 Ryan Moore / Jalen Smereck
  • 2018–2020 Ty Dellandrea

NHL playersEdit

The team has produced 17 NHL signed or drafted players since its inception in 2015.[citation needed]

# Player name NHL team NHL season NHL Draft round NHL Draft pick
1 Vladislav Kolyachonok Florida Panthers 2019 2nd round 52nd overall
2 Ethan Keppen Vancouver Canucks 2019 4th round 122nd overall
3 Ty Dellandrea Dallas Stars 2018 1st round 13th overall
4 Dennis Busby Arizona Coyotes 2018 5th round 145th overall
5 Kyle Keyser Boston Bruins 2018 Free agent n/a
6 Fedor Gordeev Toronto Maple Leafs 2017 5th round 141st overall
7 Kole Sherwood Columbus Blue Jackets 2017 Free agent n/a
8 Jalen Smereck Arizona Coyotes 2017 Free agent n/a
9 Will Bitten Montreal Canadiens 2016 3rd round 70th overall
10 Nick Caamano Dallas Stars 2016 5th round 146th overall
11 Nicolas Mattinen Toronto Maple Leafs 2016 6th round 179th overall
12 Vili Saarijärvi Detroit Red Wings 2015 3rd round 73rd overall
13 Alex Nedeljkovic Carolina Hurricanes 2014 2nd round 37th overall
14 Connor Chatham New Jersey Devils 2014 3rd round 71st overall
15 Alex Peters Dallas Stars 2014 3rd round 75th overall
16 Josh Wesley Carolina Hurricanes 2014 4th round 96th overall
17 Brent Moran Dallas Stars 2014 4th round 115th overall

Season-by-season resultsEdit

Regular seasonEdit

Legend: OTL = Overtime loss, SOL = Shootout loss

Season Games Won Lost OTL SOL Points Pct % Goals
2015–16 68 20 42 4 2 46 .338 184 279 5th West
2016–17 68 32 28 3 5 72 .529 229 242 3rd West
2017–18 68 20 43 3 2 45 .331 194 316 5th West
2018–19 68 16 46 6 0 38 .279 212 350 5th West
2019–20 63 40 21 1 1 82 .651 274 243 2nd West


  • 2015-16 - Out of playoffs.
  • 2016-17 - Lost to Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 4 games to 1 in conference quarter-finals.
  • 2017-18 - Out of playoffs.
  • 2018-19 - Out of playoffs.
  • 2019-20 - Cancelled.


  1. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/nhl/flint-firebirds-owner-suspended-ohl-1.3524218
  2. ^ "Firebirds announce affiliation with Leamington Flyers".
  3. ^ McMann, Aaron (January 14, 2015). "Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers moving to Flint in 2015-16 season". MLive.com. The Flint Journal. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  4. ^ "Whalers announce relocation plans". Ontario Hockey League. January 14, 2015. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  5. ^ McMann, Aaron (February 2, 2015). "It's official: Ontario Hockey League approves Plymouth Whalers' move to Flint". MLive.com. The Flint Journal. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  6. ^ "OHL Board of Governors Approve Transfer of Ownership and Relocation to Flint". Ontario Hockey League. February 2, 2015. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  7. ^ McMann, Aaron (January 21, 2015). "Hoping for a return of the Flint Generals name? OHL commissioner says it's not happening". MLive.com. The Flint Journal. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  8. ^ McMann, Aaron (March 2, 2015). "Name expected soon for Flint's OHL team; you still like 'Flint Tropics'". MLive.com. The Flint Journal. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  9. ^ Heller, Andrew (February 11, 2015). "Come Heller high water: Please don't call the hockey team the Flint Tropics". MLive.com. The Flint Journal. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  10. ^ McMann, Aaron (February 13, 2015). "Anti-'Tropics' crowd growing as naming contest for Flint's new OHL team ends". MLive.com. The Flint Journal. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  11. ^ Everybody panic! Flint Tropics to take to the ice
  12. ^ TSN.ca Staff (November 8, 2015). "Poll: Which of the 10 registered names do you like best for Flint's new OHL team?". TSN.ca. The Sports Network. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  13. ^ a b How Flint Firebirds firestorm came about http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/juniors/how-flint-firebirds-firestorm-came-about/
  14. ^ "Seidel: Firebirds players risk it all to save coaches". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 2015-11-13.
  15. ^ TSN.ca Staff (November 8, 2015). "Report: Firebirds fire coaches, players walk out". TSN.ca. TSN. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  16. ^ Frank Seravalli (November 9, 2015). "#MondayMustRead: Flint Firebirds re-hire coaches after player protest". TSN.ca. TSN. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  17. ^ Flint Firebirds coaches reinstated, owner admits he made 'irresponsible mistake' http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/sports/branch-to-meet-with-firebirds-brass-after-reported-firings-and-team-revolt-343758692.html
  18. ^ Sipple, George (February 17, 2016). "Flint Firebirds fire coaches for second time this season". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved February 17, 2016.
  19. ^ Sipple, George; Jahnke, James (February 18, 2016). "Flint Firebirds owner suspended; OHL investigating". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
  20. ^ "OHL suspends Flint owner, appoints interim coaches". The Detroit News. February 18, 2016. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
  21. ^ Sipple, George (April 6, 2016). "Flint Firebirds' owner suspended 5 years, team now under OHL control". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved April 6, 2016.
  22. ^ "Flint Firebirds Name Coaching Staff". OurSports Central. May 20, 2016.
  23. ^ "Ryan Oulahen Steps Down as Flint Firebirds Head Coach". Ontario Hockey League. October 12, 2018. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  24. ^ "Eric Wellwood appointed Flint Firebirds Head Coach". Ontario Hockey League. October 18, 2018. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
  25. ^ Flint Firebirds continue to set team records with 15th consecutive victory The Flint Journal via MLive.com, February 22, 2020
  26. ^ a b Flint Firebirds Radio & TV Broadcast Coverage

External linksEdit