The 2019-20 OHL regular season brought with it a plethora of memorable moments. From outstanding individual efforts to franchise surprising the league with stellar play, there’s a lot to look back on. Yes, the campaign will also go down in infamy as a part of these trying times in our world. However, it’s not a time to focus on that. Instead, we will steer our attention to one of the more exciting storylines in the OHL this year, the Flint Firebirds.
2019-20 Flint Firebirds Overview
Even though it was cut short, the 2019-20 season was Flint’s best in its five years of existence. Their 40 wins were the best in franchise history by eight wins. Additionally, they experienced a drastic from the prior season, only accumulating 16 victories in 2018-19. The Firebirds finished second in the West Division with a 40-21-1-1 record. If the postseason occurred, they would have been the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
The Firebirds were one of the league’s highest-scoring teams of the season. Through 63 games, they registered 274 goals. Only the Ottawa 67’s and Saginaw Spirit produced more goals on the year. Unfortunately, the Firebirds were not as good at keeping pucks out of their own net. Flint’s 243 goals-against was eighth-most in the OHL and fourth-most among teams that qualified for the playoffs.
Overall, the Firebirds were a pretty disciplined team this season. They averaged just nine penalty minutes a game, which was the second-fewest in the OHL. Additionally, their 566 total penalty minutes were also the second-fewest. Although Flint’s season was an overall success, special teams were not the organization’s strong suit this year. The Firebirds were just outside the bottom-five in power-play efficiency, only capitalizing on 19.9% on their opportunities. Remarkably, Flint’s effectiveness on the powerplay depended on whether they were home or away. On home-ice, the Firebirds were one of the league’s worst powerplay teams. On the road, they were one of the best.
Luckily, Flint was a pretty strong team when it came to killing penalties. The Firebirds had an 80.8% success rate killing penalties, good enough for fifth-best in the league. Regarding home and away splits, Flint’s PK success was the exact opposite of its power play. They were the best penalty-killing teams on home ice, while one of the worst teams on the road.
No players on the Firebirds produced more points than Evgeniy Oksentyuk this season. The 2019 CHL Import Draft selection led Flint in both goals (33) and assists (45). While Oksentyuk dominated play for Flint in even-strength situations, he also made an impact on the powerplay. Of his 78 points, 15 of them were on the man-advantage. In his second year of draft-eligibility, it’s looking like Oksentyuk’s year in Flint will finally get him selected by and NHL organization.
Between playing in the World Junior Championships and suffering a minor injury, Ty Dellandrea played just 47 games for Flint this season. Of course, that did not prevent him from making an impact. The Firebirds captain finished second on the team in points with 70. He produced the second-most goals (32) and fourth-most assists (38). In what could be his final season in Flint, it’s unfortunate that Dellandrea did not receive the opportunity to lead his team through a deep playoff run.
Riley McCourt put together a year worthy of defenseman of the year consideration. In today’s game, teams demand offensive production from their blueliners. This year, McCourt certainly fit the bill in that regard. The St. Catharines, Ontario native put together a career year offensively recording 18 goals and 44 assists. His 62 points ranked fifth among OHL defensemen. At the end of the day, there will be a few more standout blueliners with stronger contention for defenseman of the year. However, McCourt was a major reason for Flint’s success this season.
Taking away the uncontrollable and unfortunate conclusion to the year, the Flint Firebirds put together a 2019-20 campaign worthy of immense pride. To be one year removed from the basement of the Western Conference and become contenders in the West is a great accomplishment. This team, along with great coaching, completely switched the narrative in Flint and made Firebirds hockey exciting for the first time in franchise history.
That being said, it’s hard to imagine that this would have been the year that Flint won it all. Although they were a strong team, they did not compare to the more dominant teams in the league this season. It’s hard to imagine them coming out on top of a series against a London or an Ottawa. Still, that’s nothing to be down about. The 2019-20 season serves a building block for the Firebirds and they will look to improve upon their fortunes next year.