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Preview: Firebirds Begin 5th OHL Campaign Friday

September 20, 2019 - Ontario Hockey League (OHL) - Flint Firebirds News Release

Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. - The Firebirds are set to launch the 2019-20 season on the road Friday evening when they visit the Soo Greyhounds. Puck drop is set for 7:07 p.m. (ET) at the GFL Memorial Gardens (cap. 4,928) in Sault Ste. Marie.

The Firebirds have won three of their four opening-night games since their inception into the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in 2015. When starting the season on the road, Flint holds a record of 2-1-0-0. The 'Hounds hold a record of 0-3-1-0 on opening night over the past four seasons, and are 0-1-1-0 in home-openers during that span.

Friday night marks the first of six meetings between these clubs this season, and the first of three in Sault Ste. Marie. All-time, Flint is 6-17-1-0 against the Greyhounds and is 3-9-0-0 on the road vs. the Soo. Last season, the 'Birds finished with a record of 2-4-0-0 against the 'Hounds, and 0-3-0-0 at GFL Memorial Gardens.

The last time these two teams met was Jan. 6, when the Firebirds posted a 6 - 4 victory over the Greyhounds at the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center in Flint. Ty Dellandrea (Dallas Stars) recorded a four-point night (4A's), Vladislav Kolyachonok (Florida Panthers) scored once and added three helpers. Jake Durham scored twice and picked up an assist. Defenseman Riley McCourt also lit the lamp. Luke Cavallin stopped 36 of 40 shots in net to earn the victory.

The Firebirds played four pre-season contests and finished with their most successful exhibition season in franchise history with a record of 3-1-0-0. All three victories were on the road, including triumphs over last season's OHL Champion Guelph Storm (7 - 5) and the Saginaw Spirit (7 - 5), who won the West Division title in 2019. Flint scored a record average of 5.75 goals-per-game across their four exhibition contests. The 'Birds finished last season ranked fifth in the West Division and 10th in the Western Conference.

The Soo played three exhibition games this year and finished with a record of 2-1-0-0. They defeated the Sudbury Wolves and Sarnia Sting in road games before surrendering a 6 - 1 defeat to the Wolves at home. The 'Hounds finished the 2018-19 regular season in third place in the Western Conference and second in the West Division.

On special teams, the Soo converted on four of 20 power-play chances this preseason, ranking seventh-best. Flint operated at 17.6% clip, scoring three times on 17 opportunities. While shorthanded, the Greyhounds had the fourth-best penalty kill, successfully killing 10 of 11 penalties for a 90.9% efficiency. The Firebirds killed penalties at a 54.5% rate.

Team Leadership for 2019-20:

The Firebirds have announced that Dallas Stars' prospect Ty Dellandrea will return as the club's captain, while naming Arizona Coyotes' prospect Dennis Busby and Jake Durham as alternate captains. In addition, Vancouver Canucks' prospect Ethan Keppen will rotate with Florida Panthers' prospect Vladislav Kolyachonok as the club's third alternate captain. Keppen will serve as an alternate captain for all road games, while Kolyachonok will serve as an alternate captain for all home games.

Players to Watch

Flint Firebirds (0-0-0-0, West Division):

Newcomer Evgeniy Oksentyuk and second-year forward Emmet Pierce finished the pre-season tied for the third-most assists in the OHL, each with five total helpers. Freshman forward Brennan Othmann, the clubs first-round draft pick for this season (2nd overall), scored four goals in four games. Among all OHL rookies his total goals-scored were second-best, and his goal-per-game average topped the charts. Othmann's six total points (4G, 2A) were third-most among rookies and tied for 11th-most among all skaters. Veteran forward Jake Durham only appeared in two pre-season contests before heading to Columbus for the Blue Jackets' training camp, but scored a hat-trick in one of the games and logged a single goal in the other. His four goals were the most by any OHL player who only participated in two games during exhibition.

Riley McCourt, who attended the Boston Bruins training camp recently, finished in the top ten (T-6th) among rearguards with four points (2G, 2A) in four games-played. Both McCourt and Michael Bianconi scored two goals in three games, which ranked them tied for second among defensemen. First-year blue-liner Jack Harper earned three assists in the exhibition games, which was tied for third-most among all rookie skaters, and he finished third in +/- with a +4 rating.

In net, recently-acquired overage netminder Anthony Popovich backstopped the Guelph Storm to the OHL championship a season ago. He missed the OHL pre-season to spend time with the Detroit Wings at their training camp in Traverse City. He was joined at camp by second-year forward Cody Morgan. Both players have been returned to the Firebirds prior to Friday's season opener. Evan Morrison made three appearances and recorded two victories. He made 56 saves on 64 total shots for a 4.56 goals-against average (GAA) and a save percentage (SAV%) of .875. Returning veteran Luke Cavallin made one appearance, making 20 saves on 22 shots for a .909 SAV%. Livonia, Mich. native Payton Grainer played in one game and made 41 saves on 46 shots for a 5.00 GAA and a .891 SAV%.

NHL: The Firebirds have four players with NHL ties consisting of Dennis Busby (Arizona Coyotes), Ty Dellandrea (Dallas Stars), Ethan Keppen (Vancouver Canucks), and Vladislav Kolyachonok (Florida Panthers). In addition, Jake Durham (Columbus Blue Jackets), Riley McCourt (Boston Bruins), Cody Morgan (Detroit Red Wings), Evgeniy Oksentyuk (Arizona Coyotes) and Anthony Popovich (Detroit Red Wings) were invited to NHL Training Camps this year.

Despite Flint playing in just four OHL seasons thus far, Alex Nedeljkovic (Carolina Hurricanes) and Kole Sherwood (Columbus Blue Jackets) are two former Firebirds to play in the NHL. Ty Dellandrea (Dallas Stars), Ethan Keppen (Vancouver Canucks), Vili Saarijarvi (Detroit Red Wings) and Jalen Smereck (Arizona Coyotes) have played in NHL pre-season contests. In total, the team has produced 17 signed or drafted players into the NHL.

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (0-0-0-0, West Division):

Tye Kartye led the Greyhounds in the preseason. In two games he scored twice and assisted on three tallies for five total points. Tanner Dickinson averaged a point per game to finish third, with a goal and two assists in three contests. There is a six-way tie for third-most points, including rookie Dominic Mufarreh and defenseman Robert Calisti.

The top returning scorer for the 'Hounds is Barrett Hayton (Arizona Coyotes). He finished fourth on the team last season with 66 points (26G, 40A) in 39 games-played. Cole MacKay finished fifth in total points with 61 (27G, 34A) in 65 games. Ryan Roth was seventh on the stat sheet with 21 goals and 21 assists through 68 contests.

In net, overage netminder Christian Propp, who spent last season with the North Bay Battalion, appeared in two preseason contests for the Soo. He made 42 saves on 50 shots and earned one victory. His goals-against average (GAA) was 4.00 and his save percentage (SAV%) was .840. Last season, Propp played in 51 games and earned 24 wins. Sophomore goaltender Ethan Taylor played one exhibition game and made 25 saves on 27 shots for the win. His SAV% was .926.

NHL: The Greyhounds have two players with NHL ties, Barrett Hayton (Arizona Coyotes) and defenseman Jacob LeGuerrier (Montreal Canadiens). In addition, Joe Carroll (Toronto Maple Leafs), Cole MacKay (Vegas Golden Knights) and Cullen McLean (Vegas Golden Knights) were invited to NHL Training Camps this year.

25 notable Greyhounds' alumni to play in the NHL are Wayne Gretzky, Jeff Beukeboom, Bob Boughner, Jeff Carter, Dan Clouthier, Paul Coffey, Trevor Daley, Ray Emery, Adam Foote, Ron Francis, Craig Hartsburg, Ric Jackman, Dustin Jeffrey, Tyler Kennedy, Denny Lambert, Greg Millen, Ted Nolan, Nathan Perrott, Bob Probert, Wayne Simmons, Brad Staubitz, Steve Sullivan, Joe Thornton, Rick Tocchet, John Vanbiesbrouk, and Josef Vasick.

Broadcast Coverage:

Friday evening's contest against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds will be 1-of-3 games on the 68-game schedule without television coverage and 1-of-4 games without radio coverage. However, beginning with Saturday's game in Saginaw, Firebirds' games can be heard live on the radio throughout Flint & Mid-Michigan on US 103.1 FM, online at www.us103.com or by downloading the US 103 app here. Dominic Hennig will call the play-by-play action on the Firebirds Hockey Network (FHN). Pregame coverage will begin 30 minutes prior to puck drop at 6:30 p.m. Saturday evening from Saginaw, Mich.

All Flint Firebirds home and away games throughout the 2019-20 season can be watched anywhere in the world online on www.ohllive.com or on the OHL Live app. OHL Live is a league video streaming platform that delivers high quality live and on-demand coverage of all regular season and playoff games annually. The cost is $6.99 per game, $69.99 for Flint Firebirds away games only, $149.99 for all 68 home and away Firebirds games and $179.99 for all 1,360 OHL games throughout the 2019-20 season.

2019-20 Home Opening Weekend:

The Firebirds' Home Opening night at the Dort Federal Event Center is Saturday, September 28. The club will host the Niagara IceDogs, with puck drop slated for 7:00 p.m. (ET). Many fun promotions are scheduled including all fans in attendance receiving a rally towel, compliments of Dort Federal Credit Union.

The Firebirds are also hosting their inaugural cornhole tournament before the game! The tournament will consist of two divisions, social and competitive, and teams consist of two players each. Day of registration begins at Noon. The tournament starts at 2:00 p.m. leading up to the Firebirds game at 7:00 p.m. All proceeds will benefit the Flint Firebirds Charitable Foundation which was created to support youth in education and sports programs in Genesee and Lapeer Counties. Full details and registration available HERE.

Opening weekend continues Sunday when the Firebirds host the Sarnia Sting at 2 p.m. Sunday's game is the first Firebirds' Family "FUN"day. The Sunday "FUN"day games feature up to two free kids' tickets (12 & under) with the purchase of an adult ticket, as well as a post-game 'skate with Firebirds players. There will also be a Car Show from 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. in the Dort Federal Event Center Parking Lot. Fans with concept cars or out-of-production classics can show off theeir cars, receive 2 Silver Level Tickets and free parking for $20! In addition, the first 50 cars registered will receive a FREE hockey and Hot Rods T-shirt.

Single game tickets for all Firebirds games are $12 / Bronze, $16 / Silver, $20 / Gold and $26 / VIP seating (Seating Chart). All seats are reserved / assigned seating. Fans can purchase tickets by calling (810) 744-0580, in-person at the Dort Federal Event Center Box Office or online at ticketmaster.com.


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