The Ontario Hockey League has suspended Flint Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen until further notice while appointing Joe Stefan as interim head coach and Pat Peake as interim assistant coach, the league announced Thursday.
The moves are the latest twist in the ongoing controversy surrounding the junior hockey team, which has seen its coaching staff fired twice and a player walkout.
Stefan and Peake were appointed as coaches before the Firebirds hosted the Erie Otters Thursday night. Joe Birch, OHL senior director of Hockey Development, was also assisting behind the bench Thursday, the league said.
The OHL stepped in after the team owner fired coach John Gruden and assistant Dave Karpa Wednesday and appointed director of hockey operations Sergei Kharin as interim coach. Kharin was also suspended by the OHL commissioner Thursday pending an investigation.
Nilsen fired the coaching staff in early November – only for Gruden and Karpa to be rehired 24 hours later – after players staged a walkout.
“The Ontario League takes the health and well being of our players very seriously,” commissioner David Branch said in a statement. “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 also ordered counseling be provided to players, at the owner’s cost. Nilsen and staff was ordered to cooperate with a league investigation and comply with its findings.
League representatives were to meet with players Thursday afternoon.
Nilsen moved the team to Flint this season from Plymouth after buying the franchise from Peter Karmanos Jr.
Stefan, who is the Firebirds assistant general manager, was an assistant coach with the Plymouth Whalers. Peake, who was a first-round pick (14th overall) of the Washington Capitals in 1991 NHL draft, is a coach with Little Caesars Hockey.