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Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Flint Firebirds

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The Flint Firebirds are rewriting their record books and turning heads across the country as they crack the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings for the second time this season.

Winners of a franchise-record 13 straight, the Firebirds are number 10 in the league’s weekly list after keeping their consecutive victories streak alive with recent decisions against the Saginaw Spirit, Guelph Storm, and Sarnia Sting to improve to 35-17-1-1 on the season, tied for first place in the OHL’s West Division with 72 points to match the club’s all-time high still with 14 games left on the schedule.

Most impressive about the club’s 13th straight win – a 12-7 decision over the Sting – the victory helped break seven different franchise high-water marks, counting the most goals in one game, the team’s ninth consecutive road win, plus a bevy of individual accomplishments.

Headlined by captain Ty Dellandrea, the Dallas Stars first-round pick is one of five players on the Firebirds whose rights are held by NHL teams, a group that includes a trio of defencemen in Dennis Busby (Arizona Coyotes), Vladislav Kolyachonok (Florida Panthers), and Tyler Tucker (St. Louis Blues), plus fellow forward Ethan Keppen (Vancouver Canucks).

Dellandrea has been particularly dominant during the club’s win streak, amassing 25 points counting 13 goals and 12 assists including a stretch of five consecutive multi-goal games in addition to a five-point night versus the Kingston Frontenacs that matched a career single-game high. In all, Dellandrea has pushed his team-leading total to 67 points, besting his previous career high of 63 points set a year ago.

“It’s been rewarding, exciting, (and) been a long time coming wanting to be a competitive hockey team,” Dellandrea told Kyle Cicerella of the Canadian Press. “Everyone’s pretty pumped. But also we aren’t satisfied, we want a long run to the playoffs. We’re motivated.”

At an individual level, it’s been a season of success for Dellandrea, who earlier this year became the franchise’s all-time leader in every major offensive category, including his current 213 career points, all scored with the Firebirds.

“When I came here I wanted to be part of the change and create a new definition of Flint and I wanted players to come here,” Dellandrea added. “For four years it’s been my goal to try and make change.”

Joining Dellandrea in his quest to remake the Firebirds is left-wing Evgeniy Oksentyuk, a diminutive playmaker who has collected 28 goals and 37 assists for 65 points through 49 games this season, a performance that has helped the Belarusian-born forward rank 79th among North American skaters ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft.

Selected fifth-overall in the 2019 CHL Import Draft, Oksentyuk has been one of Flint’s most impressive performers in the club’s climb up the standings, a stretch which included a four-point night versus the Oshawa Generals earlier in February that helped guide the Firebirds to a 5-3 road win in which Oksentyuk was recognized as the game’s third star.

The Firebirds are also seeing an exciting first season from left-wing Brennan Othmann who through 46 games has registered 14 goals and 16 assists for a team rookie record 30 points, earning him a spot among the OHL’s top 10 freshmen scorers. Chosen second overall in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection, Othmann has continued to grow his game as the season has progressed, notching eight points in his past nine appearances.

On the back end, the Firebirds offer up one of the league’s most intriguing dynamic duos in veteran rearguard Riley McCourt, who is scoring just shy of a point-per-game pace with 17 goals and 36 assists through 54 contests to rank fifth among all OHL defencemen, while Tucker has been a perfect fit since his deadline addition from the Barrie Colts, putting up 20 points through 18 games with his new club highlighted by a team blue line best seven point performance on Family Day.

Rounding out the group, the Firebirds are backstopped by veteran keeper Anthony Popovich, who one year after guiding the Guelph Storm to the J. Ross Robertson Cup hopes to lead Flint to its first championship. Through 38 appearances this season, Popovich has come away with a franchise high of 24 victories while he has also surrendered just two regulation losses in his last 14 outings.

Popovich and his teammates will now look to push the franchise’s all-time win streak with its next slate of games beginning Thursday in Niagara before heading to Mississauga the following night and returning home Saturday for a date with the Kitchener Rangers.

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