Mike Halford

FlintFirebirds

OHL slaps Flint Firebirds owner with five-year suspension, $250K fine

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The Ontario Hockey League has come down hard on Flint owner Rolf Nilsen, delivering one of the most severe suspensions and largest fines in league history.

From OHL commissioner David Branch:

I am satisfied that Rolf Nilsen of the Flint Firebirds has on several occasions violated an agreement he signed on the 11th day of November, 2015, between himself and the OHL. Those violations are contrary to the best interests of the players, the Team, and the OHL.

In view of these findings, in accordance with the OHL Constitution, I have ordered that:

Rolf Nilsen be suspended by the OHL from being involved directly or indirectly with hockey operations of the Flint Firebirds for five (5) years effective immediately;

The Flint Firebirds forfeit a first round draft pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection (third pick overall);

A fine be paid by Rolf Nilsen to the League in the amount of Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars ($250,000.00);

If it is determined by the League that Rolf Nilsen has violated this Order, the League may order Rolf Nilsen to sell one hundred percent (100%) of the ownership interest of the Flint Firebirds.

Nilsen came under fire this season for firing his entire coaching staff on Nov. 8, rehiring them again the next day, then firing them again in February.

The final action led to the OHL suspending Nilsen indefinitely.

According to reports, Nilsen first fired his head coaches because he didn’t believe his son — Hakon, a defenseman — was receiving enough playing time. In the aftermath, the OHL had Nilsen sign the aforementioned agreement, which “prevented him from firing his coaches again without OHL consultation, but also forbid him from meddling in hockey-related activities,” per TSN.

That agreement, obviously, was breached.

In today’s ruling, the OHL said that if Nilsen violates this latest order, he may be forced to sell 100 percent interest in the team (he’s not allowed to apply for reinstatement for three years).

The league also stated the “stewardship, supervision and direction” of Flint’s hockey operations would fall under Branch, while Joe Birch — who has filled the Firebirds’ Director of Hockey Ops role since February — will stay on in that same capacity.

Flint is expected to name a new GM, head coach and more hockey ops staffers in the near future.

Goalie nods: Wings stick with Howard for crucial clash against Flyers

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, right, celebrates with Niklas Kronwall (55), of Sweden, and Tomas Tatar (21), of Slovakia, after a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild in an  NHL hockey game Friday, April 1, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
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It’s a light night on the NHL calendar — just three games all told — but it’s an evening loaded with playoff implications, as the Red Wings host the Flyers in a key battle for Eastern Conference wild card positioning.

Philly’s decision in goal was relatively easy. It’ll be Steve Mason making his 10th straight start. With Michal Neuvirth hurt and the untested Anthony Stolarz backing up, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol didn’t really have an alternative option.

His counterpart, Detroit’s Jeff Blashill, had a more challenging decision.

The choice was either to stick with Jimmy Howard — who’s started four straight and won two in a row — or go back to Petr Mrazek, who played at a Vezina-caliber level through the first half of the season.

The choice?

Howard, who is coming off a stellar game against Toronto in which he stopped 32 of 34 shots, good for a .940 save percentage.

While it’s a massive contest for both teams, Detroit has a bit more on the line. The Wings have just two games left after this — both on the road, in Boston and New York — while the Flyers have three games left: Thursday versus Toronto, Saturday versus Pittsburgh and their season finale on Sunday, in Brooklyn.

Oh yeah, Detroit also has its streak of 24 consecutive playoff appearances on the line. Forgot to mention that one.

Elsewhere…

— Big night in Edmonton, as the team and fans bid farewell to Rexall. Jacob Markstrom is expected to play for the visiting Canucks, while Cam Talbot is likely to start for the Oilers.

— It’s Sergei Bobrovsky versus Garret Sparks as the Blue Jackets take on the Leafs in Toronto.

Drury joins Team USA management group for Worlds

Rangers Sign Chris Drury And Scott Gomez
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Chris Drury’s transition into the managerial side of hockey will begin in a fitting place.

One of USA Hockey’s most decorated international competitors, Drury has been named to the management group that will oversee the American entry at the 2016 World Championships, the organization announced on Wednesday.

Drury, 39, appeared in three Olympics and three World Championships for the U.S., helping the team capture silver at the ’02 games in Salt Lake, and the ’10 games in Vancouver.

A Stanley Cup winner with Colorado in 2001, the former Boston University star enjoyed a lengthy NHL career that included stints with the Avalanche, Flames, Sabres and Rangers, serving as captain in both Buffalo and New York.

USA Hockey has certainly made a splash in advance of the ’16 Worlds.

In addition to naming Drury to its management group, the organization also made waves in late March when it named Auston Matthews as the first player — and, so far, the only player — to the roster.

Report: Motte to sign with ‘Hawks as University of Michigan exodus continues

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  Tyler Motte, 121st pick overall by the Chicago Blackhawks, poses for a portrait during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Zach Werenski, Michael Downing and now, Tyler Motte.

Those are the three underclassmen that have left the University of Michigan to sign with NHL teams and begin their professional careers — on Wednesday,Wolverines head coach Red Berenson told Michigan Daily that Motte will skip his senior year to ink with Chicago.

Motte, a 21-year-old forward, was taken by the ‘Hawks in the fourth round in 2013, and just wrapped a wildly successful junior campaign at Michigan, in which he scored 32 goals and 56 points in only 38 games.

He’s a former U.S. National Development teammate of Buffalo’s Jack Eichel and Detroit’s Dylan Larkin, as well as J.T. Compher — another U of M underclassman that might go pro.

Looking ahead, all eyes will now be on fellow junior Compher, who’s rights are held by Colorado, and freshman sensation Kyle Connor, who was taken in the first round of last year’s draft by Winnipeg.

Motte, Connor and Compher were the Wolverines’ three leading scorers in ’15-16 and, just over a week ago, Berenson acknowledged he could be losing all three of them — after having already lost two prized d-men in Downing (Florida) and Werenski (Columbus).

“As soon as they start waving the flag, some of these kids can’t say no,” Berenson said, per the Detroit Free Press. “They’re so enamored and swayed. It used to be the players would ask me, ‘What do you think?’ They don’t ask anymore.”

Related: Another Wolverine goes pro, as Florida signs Downing

With injuries mounting and playoffs looming, ‘Hawks recall Bickell

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell, left, controls the puck against Minnesota Wild left wing Jason Zucker during the second period  of Game 2 in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoffs in Chicago, Sunday, May 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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All it took for Bryan Bickell to get back in the mix was an injury to Andrew Shaw.

And Marian Hossa.

And Artem Anisimov.

And, probably, the pending commencement of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

On Wednesday, Chicago announced it had recalled Bickell from AHL Rockford, getting him back into the rotation with the Blackhawks just two games away from starting their postseason.

The timing probably isn’t coincidental.

Though the aforementioned injuries did open the door for Bickell’s return, it was expected he’d be in the mix in some capacity once the postseason began, given there’s no salary cap in the NHL’s second season.

With money no longer part of the equation, Chicago was free to dig up Bickell’s buried $4M cap hit, and try to coax another strong playoff performance out of him.

Bickell, who hasn’t played with the ‘Hawks since Jan. 8, has done reasonably well in Rockford this season, scoring 15 goals and 31 points in 44 games.

That production never translated to the NHL, though — zero goals, two assists in just 23 games — but there is hope he can replicate some of the form that saw him score nine goals and 17 points in 23 games en route to the ’13 Stanley Cup.

Related: Hawks blow out Coyotes, but lose Anisimov to injury