Five Questions: Flint Firebirds
The Flint Firebirds have treated their (very enthusiastic) fanbase to playoff thrills two years in a row, with a trip to Game 7 of the Western Conference Championship Series in 2022 and this past spring’s seven-game first round thriller against the rival Saginaw Spirit.
What remains? Well, quite a bit actually. The Firebirds will come back with some strong character forwards in Zacharie Giroux and Ethan Hay as they continue to show consistency as a franchise, putting a competitive product on the ice in each of the past three seasons.
Five Questions looks at the Flint Firebirds, who have the unenviable task of competing with a rival Saginaw team up the I-75 gearing up to host the Memorial Cup next spring.
1. Can Hayes score 50?
He scored 41 in 66 games last season. The question is, can he do it without his steady centreman Amadeus Lombardi down the middle? Gavin Hayes, who was a third round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2022, is a U.S. National Junior Team hopeful participating in their Summer Showcase camp this week in Plymouth. He had a big finish to the regular season but went cold in the playoffs, recording two assists as the Firebirds fell in seven first round games to rival Saginaw. Hayes has a great release and it’s not unrealistic to think he could approach 50 goals with the right linemates. The Firebirds will need his production with names like Lombardi (Detroit Red Wings), Braeden Kressler (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Riley Piercey (Bridgeport Islanders, AHL) turning pro.
Two goals in the final minute and an OT winner from Gavin Hayes brought the @FlintFirebirds all the way back in Kitchener on Friday, setting up a first round #OHLPlayoffs date with rival Saginaw.@JackSznewajs was particularly excited about it 🎙️ pic.twitter.com/jkqb1iLRsW
— Ontario Hockey League (@OHLHockey) March 25, 2023
2. Is Day ready for a full workload?
A former third round pick by the Firebirds in 2021, Nathan Day appears to be coming of age. The 18-year-old saw increased responsibility in the second half of last season, ultimately becoming head coach Ted Dent’s choice in the crease come playoff time. Day was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the sixth round last month, and enters his prime OHL seasons after eight games behind Luke Cavallin in 2021-22 and 32 in a split role with Will Cranley in 2022-23. The Firebirds have fourth round 2022 OHL Priority Selection choice Jacob Brown in the pipeline, likely to be Day’s understudy after a tremendous season with the NOJHL’s Timmins Rock.
"It was such a special day for my family and I, and we couldn't be more excited."
— Ontario Hockey League (@OHLHockey) July 16, 2023
3. Is Bertucci ready to be the go-to guy on the blueline?
It was a big year of development for Tristan Bertucci, who went from healthy scratch at times during Flint’s 2022 run to the Western Conference Championship Series, to a big part of the club’s back end last season. Still filling out at 6-foot-2 and 175Ibs., Bertucci was impressive with 11 goals, 39 assists and 50 points for the Firebirds, getting the attention of the Dallas Stars, who selected him 61st overall last month. Bertucci is also on Hockey Canada’s radar, winning bronze at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship last spring. The departure of overager Tyler Deline (Acadia University) and likelihood of Dmitry Kuzmin (Winnipeg Jets) and Artem Guryev (San Jose Sharks) both turning pro will open up more minutes for Bertucci, who will have a pair of 19-year-olds to share the load with in Marko Stojkov and Blake Smith on the blueline.
"We've had a great team the past two years. I want to thank my teammates and the coaching staff with Ted Dent just for developing me and giving me the opportunity."@FlintFirebirds blueliner Tristan Bertucci joined the @DallasStars in the second round of the 2023 #NHLDraft.
— Ontario Hockey League (@OHLHockey) June 30, 2023
4. Has Dann found his scoring touch?
Nolan Dann scored 29 goals for the Sarnia Sting in 2021-22, a figure that was scaled back to 13 in 64 games between Niagara and Flint last season. Dann came alive in the playoffs though, stepping up as one of Flint’s most dependable forwards against Saginaw as he recorded five points, including an overtime winner, (4-1–5) in the seven game series. The Cambridge, Ont. native is a likely overage solution for the Firebirds and has a great shot that could be a big factor on the power play.
THE FIREBIRDS WIN GAME THREE IN OVERTIME! 🔥
— Ontario Hockey League (@OHLHockey) April 4, 2023
5. Will the Pitre brothers play together?
With Lombardi and Kressler looking like they’re on their way to the pro ranks, minutes may open up down the middle in Flint, with former first round pick Kaden Pitre stepping in as a possible recipient of some of those. The younger of the team’s two Pitres, Kaden recorded 11 points (7-4–11) over 63 games last season, and could potentially find himself playing alongside older brother Coulson, who was a third round pick of the Anaheim Ducks last month. Coulson Pitre returns as one of Flint’s top forwards for 2023-24, coming-off a 60-point season (25-35–60) in his sophomore year. He scored one of the biggest goals in Firebirds history last spring, netting the overtime winner on a breakaway in Game 6 of their series against Saginaw. Whether they’re on a line together or not, the brothers from Stouffville, Ont. are a big part of the Flint plan for the coming season.
WE'VE GOT GAME SEVEN ON MONDAY NIGHT! 😱#NHLDraft prospect Coulson Pitre completes the comeback for the @FlintFirebirds in overtime and there will be a Game 7 Monday night in Saginaw to decide the series!#OHLPlayoffs | #SAGvsFLNT pic.twitter.com/gu3z0y5chX
— Ontario Hockey League (@OHLHockey) April 9, 2023
Five Questions is put together by Josh Sweetland (@joshsweetland). Follow along throughout the summer for an offseason look at all 20 OHL clubs.