Normally the owners of OHL teams wouldn’t be of note, but Flint Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen’s handling of his team has been so poor that the league stepped in and took control away from him.

In November, Nilsen fired head coach John Gruden and assistant coach Dave Karpa because his son, defenseman Hakon Nilsen, wasn’t getting enough ice time. The players, including Hakon, walked out on the team, forcing Nilsen to change his mind and rehire Gruden and Karpa with contract extensions. The owner called the firings an “irresponsible mistake” at the time.

Since then, the Firebirds have performed poorly. They’re in last place in their division with a 16-31-4 record, and have won two of their last 10 games. In any other situation, this performance would probably prompt a coaching change, but since Nilsen took that route a few months ago over a much smaller issue, the assumption was that he couldn’t surely fire these guys again in the same season.

That assumption proved to be wrong. The team announced the firings of Gruden and Karpa, again, in a press release Wednesday. And today, the OHL announced that Nilsen along with his new coaching staff will be suspended indefinitely, and that the players would receive “counselling services” at the Firebirds’ cost. The full statement from Canadian Hockey League commissioner David Branch:

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The Ontario League takes the health and well being of our players very seriously. 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.

The league announces the following sanctions effective immediately:

Mr Nilsen and his appointees on the management and coaching staff including Sergei Kharin are suspended from Flint Firebirds’ hockey operations until further notice;

The Flint Firebirds at their cost, under the direction of the League, shall provide counselling services for players;

Rolf Nilsen and representatives of the Flint Firebirds shall co-operate with the Commissioner and the League in investigations into the conduct and actions of the Flint Firebirds and its representatives, employees, officers and directors;

In addition, the League will continue to investigate the actions of Rolf Nilsen and other representatives of the Flint Firebirds and will take any action and impose any sanctions that are deemed appropriate by the Commissioner.

Later today, the League will be meeting with the players 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.

According to TSN’s Frank Seravalli, today’s Firebirds practice had a small crowd:

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Photo: AP


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