Following a tumultuous 24 hours of uncertainty which included a multitude of international news stories and several meetings with Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch; Flint Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen has reinstated head coach John Gruden and his coaching staff.
“I made a decision with regards to our coaching staff which was an irresponsible mistake,” Nilsen said in a prepared statement. “Monday, the teams senior leadership met with the players to apologize and had a very frank discussion about next steps leading to a resolution.”
Shortly after a 4-3 shootout victory over the Oshawa Generals Sunday afternoon, OHLInsiders.com broke a story that Nilsen had fired Gruden and assistant coach David Karpa.
Upon hearing the news, the entire Flint team -which includes Nilsen's 17 year-old son Hakon Nilsen- reportedly marched up to the owners executive office and dropped their jersey's on the floor in solidarity with the coaches, refusing to play until Gruden and his staff were re-hired.
Many reports suggested Rolf Nilsen had been upset with the amount of playing time his son, Hakon had been getting. The reports suggested that the elder Nilsen had been pleading with coaches throughout the season to give Hakon Nilsen more ice-time.
Meeting with the media this afternoon, Firebirds president Costa Papista denied any allegations that Nilsen's decision to fire the coaches was in response to Hakon's lack of playing time. He did, however, make note of Nilsen's emotional state as one possible explanation.
“Rolf's a passionate hockey man, so I think that's probably one of the reasons why he was getting emotional,” Papista said. “Some of the decisions that are made in that state are not your best ones.”
Commissioner Branch, who traveled from the OHL league offices in Scarborough, ON will remain in Flint for additional meetings with Papista and the team on Tuesday.
“This type of a situation was taken incredibly seriously by the OHL,” Papista said. “The league is taking this very seriously and investigating this entire matter.”
Upon reinstatement, both Gruden and Karpa signed new three-year contracts. Papista noted the players' respect for their coaches and praised their solidarity.
“The players were very frustrated,” Papista said. “They trusted and respected their coaches, John Gruden and Dave Karpa, and they stuck up for them. That was a great sign of solidarity for their coaches. So, they made their point very clearly, and it was accepted by Rolf Nilsen.”
Ultimately, Papista made it clear the team was ready to get moving in a positive direction and put this unfortunate incident in the past.
“This is a setback,” Papista said. “This is, unfortunately, overshadowing a lot of great things about our young organization. I think we've got a great group of players and a great front office. We're going to deal with it, we're going to pull through it as a front office team, as well as an on-ice team, and just continue to improve and learn from this experience.”