As we first reported last night, there's some truly awful stuff going on in Flint right now regarding the Flint Firebirds OHL team, where the Red Wings' defenseman Vili Saarijarvi is/was playing.
As the OHL Insiders reports last night
The Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen called his coaching staff to his office while the team was skating with fans shortly after their comeback victory over the reigning OHL champions, Oshawa Generals. It is then that Head Coach, John Gruden and Asst. Coach Dave Karpa were both fired. GM Terry Christensen will be staying with the club.
The selective firing of both Gruden and Karpa were fired as a result of owner Rolf Nilsen's son Hakon, not receiving enough ice time in the eyes of ownership. There was more than one occasion where GM and owner Rolf Nilsen were coming down pleading with coaches to play him more. They were even asking for PP/PK time.
Following today's post game skate, the coaches told the players of their news. It is then that all players walked up stairs and handed in their jerseys went to the equipment room and packed their bags.
Beyond that information and what in the post from last night, we also know
Flint Firebirds owner, Rolf Nilsen has called for a meeting with coaching staff tomorrow @ 8am #OHL— OHLInsiders (@OHLinsiders) November 9, 2015
#Firebirds GM Terry Christensen will remain with the club barring any more rebellion at tomorrrow's 8am meeting. #OHL— OHLInsiders (@OHLinsiders) November 9, 2015
BREAKING: David Branch has now called a meeting for 12:00pm where he will address #Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen, players and coaches. #OHL— OHLInsiders (@OHLinsiders) November 9, 2015
That's CHL (Canadian Hockey League, which is the WHL, OHL, and WMJHL) President David Branch and the meeting has since been pushed back to 1:30 PM EST.
It also sounds like the owner's son, Hokan is probably being traded and I have to think that would be for the best both for him as a person and as a player. No 17 year old kid should have to be put through this crap because he want's to play hockey.
#OHL Hokan Nilsen is done with the Firebirds. Rumoured to be a done trade. Waiting to confirm— OHLInsiders (@OHLinsiders) November 9, 2015
Reports have the Sudbury #Wolves Acquiring Hakon Nilsen. Might not be done yet, but that's what I've been told. #OHL— OHLInsiders (@OHLinsiders) November 9, 2015
Then the GM says that's not true, but can we believe what he says? I don't know. It could also simply mean that he hasn't been traded "yet".
Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen pictured Didn't answer questions GM Christensen says Hakon Nilsen "100% NOT been traded" pic.twitter.com/ZvErnSFurc— Ryan Slocum (@Sloc12) November 9, 2015
From everything I know and have heard, Coach Gruden is a very good coach who was conducting himself and his team the way should have been. The fact that all the team stood up for him when he was fired is a testament to what kind of guy he is. And like any coach who truly cares for his players, Gruden had this message for his boys
Gruden's msg to his boys. "Don't quit, you guys all have bright careers." To which the players responded, "We're battling for you coach"— OHLInsiders (@OHLinsiders) November 9, 2015
This is just all around a terrible, horrible situation and there are young kids whose future are being affected through no fault of their own. As far as the Red Wings are concerned, it sounds like for now the organization is going to work with the OHL and try to find a resolution without taking drastic measures. Keep in mind this was said early this morning, but George Sipple of the Free Press wrote this in his article
"I don't know anything about it," Red Wings assistant general manager Ryan Martin told the Free Press this morning. "I was traveling and didn't get home last night until a little bit after 11. I contacted Vili's agent."
Martin called back a few minutes later and said that the agent hadn't yet spoken to Saarijarvi.
Martin said he never has heard of an entire team walking out after a coach was fired.
Is he concerned about how this will affect Saarijarvi?
"Well, not right now, because it's 8:15 on a Monday morning, and it just happened last night," Martin said. "I'd like to gather some information and see what's going on. At the end of the day, I'm sure the commissioner of the (Ontario Hockey League) will be involved today, working with the owners of that team, trying to come to some type of agreement with the players."
If the Firebirds were to cease operations, or the Wings to decide they didn't want Vili in that atmosphere, I don't know for sure what their options would be. I think the team, or Vili's agent would have to demand Saarijarvi be traded to a different OHL team. Vili can't play in the AHL until he's 20, so I believe his only options would be junior hockey over here, or going back to Finland.
Jeff Marek said on Hockey Central At Noon that Firebirds goalie Alex Nedeljkovic was one of the more vocal players to support coach Gruden, and that Nedeljkovic drove home to Ohio last night saying "he's done". I'm sure it was an emotional reaction, but it's a testament to how serious this situation is that a kid in his position to potentially risk his future this.
It's difficult to know exactly what's going on, but we'll keep updating as news becomes available. In the meantime we encourage everyone not to attempt to contact any of the players and especially not to harass them. Remember, these are young kids put in a terrible situation. There are conflicting reports on exactly which coaching staff members were actually fired, but head coach John Gruden has been fired for sure and it looks like General Manager Terry Christensen will probably take over as head coach.
Rolf Nilsen has left the meeting early. My guess is he was there to issue an apology. Now he'll let coaches/players discuss.— OHLInsiders (@OHLinsiders) November 9, 2015
#BREAKING Both John Gruden and Dave Karpa have been reinstated with new 3 year contracts by the Flint Firebirds. #OHL— OHLInsiders (@OHLinsiders) November 9, 2015
Nilsen's apology has been described as "bulls**t and not meaningful." #OHL #Firebirds— OHLInsiders (@OHLinsiders) November 9, 2015
So both coaches who were fired have been re-hired. I can't imagine how awkward this work environment will be, but for not it looks like the team will move forward.