The Flint Firebirds are on a remarkable run.
After missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, the Firebirds are riding high atop the West Division on a 14-game winning streak. Their 4-0 win in Niagara on Thursday gave them 74 points, the most in the five-year history of the club that relocated to Flint to begin 2015-16 after 18 seasons of operation as the Plymouth Whalers.
Now 36-17-1-1, head coach Eric Wellwood’s Firebirds are trying to create some distance between themselves and the interstate rival Saginaw Spirit who sit a point back of them in the West Division. Flint visits Mississauga on Friday before returning home to face the Kitchener Rangers on Saturday.
Built around fourth-year captain and Dallas Stars first round pick Ty Dellandrea, the Firebirds have benefitted from the addition of 30-goal scorer Evgeniy Oksetntyuk this season while 19-year-old defender Riley McCourt sits fifth in scoring among OHL rearguards with 56 points (17-39–56).
The ‘Birds have won 10 straight on the road, and enjoyed much of their recent success without the services of injured Vancouver Canucks prospect Ethan Keppen.
“We’ve got a lot of depth this year with our team and that’s been a big part of our success,” Dellandrea recently told Josh Sweetland on the OHL This Week Podcast. “All throughout the lineup we can score and guys have been stepping up, playing big minutes and having a big role on the team.”
For Dellandrea, who has played on 16-win and 20-win teams in the past two seasons, this year’s success isn’t something that has come overnight for the team’s veterans.
“A lot of the past few seasons worked into this year. We’ve gone through a lot of adversity over the couple years here and we’ve got a good core of leaders that have been through it as well. We’ve really used it as motivation as wanting to get better as a group even last year when we were out of the run early. We’re a really tight group, everyone gets along really well and we’ve had some key additions this year that have really stepped up and been big for us.”
Firebirds general manager Barclay Branch went about adding veteran experience to the dressing room, bringing in reigning OHL champions Anthony Popovich and Owen Lalonde who hoisted the Robertson Cup with the Guelph Storm last spring. St. Louis Blues prospect Tyler Tucker and 6-foot-3 sophomore Riley Piercey have also been productive since joining the team last month.
They’re setting club records with 13 games still left to play in the 2019-20 season and could have a playoff spot locked up by the end of the weekend. Keep an eye on the Flint Firebirds as a team to watch in the OHL’s Western Conference.