Keith DotsonComment

Editorial: Flint Deserves Better

Keith DotsonComment
Editorial: Flint Deserves Better

I was in the middle of filling up with gas when my phone started to blow up. That's how I found out that the Firebirds fired their coaches... again. The same coaches who were fired, and then rehired with new contracts the next day after the team walked out.

There are many facets to this situations and I will do my best to touch on them here, but first I want to explain where I am coming from. 

My interest in the OHL came during the NHL lockout season. Since then I was lucky enough to find myself helping the television crew for the Plymouth Whalers in the 2005-06 season, and eventually I found my way into the organization and proud to be on the ice last March as the Whalers played their final game.

In that time I grew to be passionate about the team and OHL hockey. I was able to get to see players, watch them grow, and eventually see them in the NHL. I made friends with other fans and season ticket holders. It really was a close knit family that we were a part of. Not to mention that we were lucky to see some great hockey, and memorable playoff moments.  

As a Whalers fan, yes it hurt to see the team go. There is nothing that I, or the fans could have done to change that. Now we are almost done with Flint's first season in the OHL and I have come to the conclusion that Flint deserves better.

The Team

When the team was moved, very little in terms of Whalers staff remained with the team, sans about three people. The players that were given to them were a few NHL prospects, a player heading into his draft year at a projected 1st/2nd round pick. As well as a number of extra picks picked up at the trade deadline for Matt Mistele.

The Whalers failed to make the playoffs for the first time since their inaugural year.(23-38-7 [2015] and 11-50-5 [1991] respectively). It was not a great season as many man games were lost due to injury, a number of suspensions, and a new coach and GM taking the helm of the team. 

What was given to Flint was a decent team. One that could, on paper at least, return to the playoffs and give the team something to build on. 

Nobody expected a Memorial Cup team, nor conference finals, but the team was expected to compete. 

The Ownership

From the start there were questions about Rolf Nilsen buying a team for his son to play on. 

Originally applying for a USHL team to be placed in Flint, Nilsen had the Whalers practically fall into his lap as the Whalers home arena was sold to USA Hockey in November 2014. 

Whenever a team is moved and new ownership takes over, questions arise about the franchise history. Such as if this is a continuation of the Ambassadors/Jr. Wings/Whalers, or will they count this as a fresh start.

By all intents and purposes, the way the Firebirds have been run this organization it feels that they are forgoing the history of the previous franchise and starting fresh.

Which is not a bad thing. However, when the actions of the front office make it appear they are trying to get rid of anyone who is Whalers related without regard to how it will affect the future of the franchise, that's where I take issue with it. 

Connor Chatham, Josh Wesley, Bryce Yetman, Vincent Scognamiglio, Tyler Sensky, Zack Bowman, and Alex Nedeljkovic have all been traded or let go this season alone. 

The players that were traded we part of some lopsided trades. The Icedogs got Ned and Wesley for a song and the Chatham trade to Windsor was heavily weighted in Windsor's favor.

Flint was competitive to start the season, however with the meddling from the owner Rolf Nilsen in early November in which he fired the coaches, had the team walk out on him, and basically had no move but to re-hire the coaches, is what started the downturn of this team.

The coaches came back with new three-year deals and the team was playing well again for the next 4-5 games. Then the poor trades happen. and as you can see by the graph over on the right, the team started to tank.

Flint's last win at home came on November 25th. In that time the team also went on a 14 game losing streak. 

These losses were not blowouts. They were close, but the losses added up  due to a loss of talent on the bench. 

With the latest antics from the owner, CHL Commissioner David Branch has done everything in his power to right the ship so far. The owner and the management have been suspended until further notice, but that just creates more questions for the rest of the season. 

Questions such as... Will Bitten and Vili Saarijärvi remain with the team after this season? Will the team have the same owner by the end of the season? If there is a new owner, will the team stay in Flint?

My heart goes out to the Flint community. For one, there are more pressing issues in the city than to have to witness this mess. The city of Flint loves hockey and embraced getting an OHL team.

Nepotism like this should have no place in hockey in general.  Right now, the fans are getting short end of the stick. John Gruden and assistant Dave Karpa have been put in a tight spot, and I feel for them and their families. 

I think former Whaler/Firebird Vincent Scognamiglio said it best yesterday when he tweeted...

The former Whaler fans wanted better for this team, and Flint deserves better. I am glad to hear that Joe Steffan and former Whaler Pat Peake will be behind the bench tonight. 

A lot of this situation still has to play out over the coming days and weeks. We will just have to wait and see how this plays out.