So Rolf, Why Flint?

Posted: February 23, 2016 by OHLInsiders in Flint Firebirds News, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Now that we’ve seen part two to the ongoing Flint Firebirds saga, I want to look a bit more into Rolf Nilsen’s motive behind not only hindering the career of twenty or so young men, but buying the team and putting it in Flint, Michigan in the first place.

The situation we’ve all seen unfold in the past few months with the Flint Firebirds is upsetting to many around the world, and even more so if you’ve seen it first hand as a fan, parent, staff member or resident of Flint, Michigan. One of these residents and fans who came forward via email was so excited to see major junior hockey in Flint, he went to the arena to personally thank Rolf Nilsen for bringing such a club to Flint, Michigan.

“I believe I actually interrupted a meeting that Rolf Nilsen, Costa Papista and Terry Christensen were having,” the individual said. “I found Nilsen, at least in my encounter with him very unpersonable. Actually, his personality reminded me a bit of my father who was Polish born and had difficulty speaking English. Rolf being Norwegian born does not have a very good command of the English language. I think you would see that in any of the brief interviews that he has done with the media. I left that encounter feeling that something was not right.”

In January of 2015, the Plymouth Whalers were sold by Peter Karmanos Jr. to IMS USA, which is a maker of watertight doors. The company is an American sales unit of Norway’s IMS Group, and owned by Rolf Nilsen. IMG USA Inc. is headquartered out of Cape Coral, Florida, the same city Rolf Nilsen calls home.

So let it be known that Rolf Nilsen has one of, if not the deepest set of pockets of any CHL owner. Which begs the question, why the OHL and why Flint?

When asked directly by an honest fan looking to thank him for bringing prosperity to Flint Michigan, Rolf danced around the question and responded saying he has always wanted to own and operate his own hockey club.

Leading up to Peter Karmanos Jr.’s sale of the Plymouth Whalers and since April 2013, Karmanos has also been interested in selling his ECHL’s Florida Everblades which are based in Estero, Florida, a 30 minute drive from Rolf’s hometown and his company’s headquarters in Cape Coral. You would think a professional franchise would make more sense for Rolf Nilsen.

Prior to Karmanos’ Plymouth Whalers becoming for sale, Rolf Nilsen had submitted a formal application to purchase a USHL franchise which he later withdrew when the Whalers became an option.

So, Nilsen either purchased or expressed interest in purchasing teams where his son Hakon could play immediately, and ignored other blatant options, including the Florida Everblades, which Hakon would not be eligible regardless of skill for another few years.

Fast forward to early April and the Flint Firebirds staff are gathered around the table making their selections in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection. The 7th round comes around and there is a guy who has slipped in the draft a few spot and who has received a circle on every single Firebirds scout’s list as a guy they could not pass up on at this point. GM Terry Christensen pipes up and elects to select Hakon Nilsen because according to an eyewitness “this is where I promised Rolf we’d take him.”

So Rolf, Why Flint?

“I got my answer.”

The email I received continued to raise questions about Rolf’s appointed, now suspended management staff including both Costa Papista and Terry Christensen.

Costa Papista’s history with the OHL and in hockey management as a whole is not a very bright one having been involved in moving the North Bay Centennials to Saginaw, MI and later being relieved of his duties in Saginaw. Shortly thereafter, Papista was involved in the operations of the Dayton Bombers (ECHL) & Port Huron Border Cats (UHL), both of which ceased operations during Papista’s time.

As for Terry Christensen, “I have a family member who was a long time referee in the CCHA who really does not have very many kind words about Christenson’s reputation while he was at Michigan State.”

“I felt that kind of track record did not bode well for Flint.”

The rest of the email raises many very good points. So here it is:

“I have grown up, followed and supported Flint hockey since day one of the IHL Flint Generals in 1969 to the present day OHL Flint Firebirds. 

I believe that the one good thing that has come out of this whole situation is that the Flint market has proven that it would support hockey once again. The people of Flint have just endeared one punch after another for years. First the huge exodus of General Motors jobs, then the current water crisis and now the Flint Firebirds “Fiasco”.  
In speaking with friends of mine from both Fort Myers and Cape Coral they all tell me that Rolf Nilsen has the reputation of “getting his way”.
I see this carrying on to being very nasty with the OHL. With Rolf owning the team and more importantly the arena here in Flint. The OHL can and will probably take away the franchise, but the OHL cannot tell him who to lease his facility to. Even if another potential buyer comes along for the franchise I don’t see Nilsen relenting and allowing them to play in his facility. Nilsen may attempt to obtain another franchise in a different league if he is true to his words of always wanting to own a hockey franchise. But I am certain that any respectable hockey league would not award a franchise to him after what has happened here in Flint.
I am also sadden by the departures of both coaches John Gruden and Dave Karpa. The two most important and respected individuals with the Firebirds. They are the two who should still be here in Flint.”
  1. FlintFirebirdsFan says:

    This is all such a large tragedy for the Flint area and the OHL. As a Flint area native I’ve heard so much about the Flint Generals of the IHL and how much it was such a big thing to this area. It goes to show that Flint is a mini-hockey town that thrives off of the vibe coming out of Detroit (this shows whenever there’s a jersey auction; Vili Saarijärvi’s always goes double anyone else’s jersey cost). Flint needs this team more than many people think. It’s a small step to bringing a line a post ive things to this area. It just needed someone willing to invest in this community again. Give something for this city to get excited about and show pride in.

    I really thought Rofl was going to be this said person. A man with empty pockets to spend insane amounts of money to update the arena and bring Major Tier 1 hockey back to the area. Everything was amazing at first, my family even got to tour the facility which looked amazing with a NHL quality locker room amenities to keep the players in tip top shape. I was pumped and was willing to jump on the train and help anyway possible to make this team be amazing.

    Than the firings started. I was at the game and it was intense, to beat the Erie Otters; number 1 team in the CHL. We were pumped, the team looked pumped. I started thinking ‘wow this team looks like a championship team’ even though it was still November. I walked passed Rofl as I was leaving and he looked pissed for some odd reason. The next day when I got to work, glowing with excitment about the game; one of my coworkers informed me of the team walking out and the coaches being fired. Nothing was the same after that.

    I talked to a gentleman that told me the coach needs to play more lines. I told him, they won and everyone was apart of that, so what they didn’t play every line. Later in the season I was told by someone else that the management didn’t care about the team and wasn’t willing to try. Stating that the rink was filthy and that us only having 4,000 seats, that they should be full every night.

    I wasn’t until I man told me that they were building an arena in Ontario in the next four years and that an owner is going to need to sell there team that I started to get really worried. I asked what he had thought about Gruden’s 3 year contract and he told me that he wouldn’t stay for 3 years. Rofl has empty pockets, buying out the contract to let him go early is like a drop in the bucket.

    So my question for you, OHLINSIDERS, what do you think is going to happen next for Flint? Do you think the team will move to Chatham next year? Do you think there’s a chance the team will stay in Flint ?Do you think we will keep the “Rofl Curse” and never have a team here again?


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