Preview: Firebirds Begin 2018 Pre-Season vs. Hamilton in Buffalo Friday
|Flint Firebirds (0-0-0-0) at Hamilton Bulldogs (0-0-0-0)|
|Date | Time||Friday, August 31st | 4:00 p.m.|
|Location||Buffalo, NY | HarborCenter|
|Radio||WQUS 103.1 FM (Flint & Mid-Michigan) | Pregame Show: 3:30p|
|Radio (Mobile)||US 103 App: Android | iPhone/iPad|
|Opening Night||Saturday, September 29th vs. London|
|Social Media||@FlintFirebirds | Facebook | Instagram|
Buffalo, NY – The Firebirds will drop the puck on the 2018-19 pre-season with a three-game exhibition weekend at the ‘OHL Preseason Showcase’ at the HarborCenter, the official practice facility of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. They will face the defending OHL-champion Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday, the Erie Otters on Saturday, and the Windsor Spitfires on Sunday. All three games will be broadcast live throughout mid-Michigan on the radio on US 103.1 FM and online at www.us103.com. Puck drop for Friday’s contest against Hamilton is set for 4 p.m. at the HarborCenter in Buffalo, NY.
All-time, Flint holds a 2-2-1-1 regular-season record against Hamilton. The Bulldogs finished the 2017-18 regular season ranked second in the standings, and went on the capture the J. Ross Robertson Cup as the OHL Champions.
The Firebirds will hold their 4th Annual Fan Fest & Open House Wednesday, September 12th. Opening Night for the 2018-19 regular season is Saturday, September 29th at the Dort Federal Event Center in Flint. Flint will host in-state rival, the Saginaw Spirit for the Firebirds only home pre-season game this season on Friday, September 14th at the Firebirds’ official practice facility, Iceland Arenas on Elms Rd. in Clayton Township.
Players to Watch:
Flint returns a solid core of players at every position. There are three rookies in particular to keep an eye on in the opening games:
Evan Vierling: The Firebirds selected the forward with the second overall pick in the first-round of the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. For the past 14 consecutive seasons (1999 – 2013), the second overall draft pick in the OHL went on to play in the NHL. Four of the last six players selected second overall in the OHL Draft were later drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft.
A native of Aurora, Ont., Vierling recorded 63 points (27G, 36A) in 33 games last season with the York Simcoe Express Minor Midget AAA hockey team in the Eastern Toronto Area Hockey League (ETAHL). He also finished third in points among 375 skaters last March in the 2018 OHL Cup powered by Under Armour. He scored five goals and added five helpers for 10 points, in addition to recording four game-winning goals in just six games played. Vierling was also one of six players named to the 2018 Gatorade OHL Cup All-Star Team. He came out on top with a tournament-high 63 face-offs, winning 57.8% in the circle.
Michael Bianconi: Drafted in the third round (48th overall) of the 2018 OHL Priority Selection, Bianconi is the lone rookie defender on the Flint squad for Friday’s contest with the Bulldogs. He hails from Toronto, Ont. and was skated with the Canadiens in the OHL Cup Championship last march. Last season, he recorded 31 points (5G, 26A) in 57 games with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens (GTHL). He averaged an impressive point per game in the 2018 OHL Cup powered by Under Armour, with three goals and four assists in seven games. He was one of six players named to the Gatorade OHL Cup All-Star team, along with Vierling.
Jacob Winterton: Winterton was selected by the Firebirds in the 10th-round (189th overall) of the 2017 OHL Priority Selection after racking up 33 points (13G, 20A) in 33 games played with the Ajax/Pickering Raiders Minor Midget AAA Hockey Club during the 2016-17 season. He also played a key role in helping the Raiders capture the Gold Medal in the 2018 OMHA playoffs, notching eight points (5G, 3A) in seven post-season games. Jacob was also named the Eastern AAA Hockey League (ETAHL) OMHA All Star Game MVP.
Eric Uba: Uba played in four games with the Firebirds last season, picking up his first OHL point with an assist, and earning seven shots on goal. He hails from Kitchener, Ont. and played with the Wellington Dukes and the Oakville Blades, both of the OJHL, during the 2017-18 season. With the Dukes, he earned 22 points (9G, 13A) in 39 games. After the trade to Oakville, Uba produced six goals and added six helpers for 12 points in 12 games. Flint drafted Uba in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection.
Between the Pipes: A season ago, Luke Cavallin was the rookie backup netminder to overager, Garrett Forrest. This season, the more experienced Cavallin and newly acquired veteran Emanuel Vella (Mississauga) are expected to backstop the Firebirds in goal. Last season, Cavallin appeared in 31 games and posted a 4.19 goals-against average (GAA) and a .872 save percentage (SAV%). Cavallin was the highest drafted goaltender in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection. Vella made 32 appearances a season ago, finishing with a 3.27 GAA and a .896 SAV%. The London Knights originally drafted Vella 47th overall (3rd round) in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection.
NHL: The Firebirds have three players with NHL ties. Center Ty Dellandrea was selected 13th overall in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars, making him the highest draft pick to date from the Flint organization. Defensemen Fedor Gordeev (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Dennis Busby (Arizona Coyotes) are also signed with NHL teams. Additionally, four other Firebirds’ players attended NHL Development Camps over the summer, including Riley McCourt (Dallas Stars), Hakon Nilsen (New York Islanders), Connor Roberts (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Emanuel Vella (New York Islanders).
The Bulldogs defeated the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, statistically the best OHL team during the regular season, in the OHL Finals last spring. At the conclusion of the season, they said goodbye to several experienced players, including former Firebirds Will Bitten (Montreal Canadians), Nicholas Caamano (Dallas Stars) and Ryan Moore. They enter the first pre-season contest with four rookies on the roster.
Logan Morrison: Morrison was the Bulldogs’ first-round pick, taken 18th overall, in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. The forward from Guelph, Ont. tallied 74 points (32G, 42A) in 33 games with the Guelph Jr. Gryphons (Min Mdgt AAA). He also had four goals and two assists for six points in four games in last year’s OHL Cup.
Michael Renwick: Renwick, a rookie blue-liner from Mississauga, Ont., was the second-round draft choice for the Bulldogs in 2018. Last season he scored six goals and added 18 assists for 24 points in 33 games with the Mississauga Reps in the GTMMHL. Renwick also competed in last year’s OHL Cup, picking up eight points (1G, 7A) in five games.
Liam Van Loon: Van Loon is a winger from London, Ont. who was drafted in the third round of the 2017 OHL Priority Selection. He made two appearances with the Bulldogs last season, collecting one assist and finishing plus-1 on the stat sheet. He earned 53 points (26G, 27A) in 42 games with the Ancaster Avalanche of the GOJHL last season. In the 2016-17 OHL Cup, Van Loon scored three goals and added four assists for seven points in six games played.
Between the Pipes: The fourth rookie on the Hamilton squad is netminder Zachary Roy. The 17-year-old native of Callander, Ont. was the Bulldog’s fourth-round pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection. Last season, Roy earned a 3.22 GAA and a SAV% of .898 with the Jr. A Rockland Nationals. He also spent some time with the Bulldogs last season, backing up Nick Donofrio and practicing with the team throughout their playoff run. Donofrio, a native of Ypsilanti, Mich, appeared in 17 games last season for Hamilton, and finished with a 3.13 GAA and a .884 SAV%.
NHL: Hamilton has three players with NHL ties, including Matthew Strome (Philadelphia Flyers), MacKenzie Entwistle (Chicago Blackhawks), and former Firebird Nicolas Mattinen (Toronto Maple Leafs).
Friday’s contest in Buffalo can be heard live on the radio throughout Flint & Mid-Michigan on US 103.1 FM, online at www.us103.com or by downloading the US 103 app here. Dominic Hennig and Nicholas Fiore will call the play-by-play action on the Flint Firebirds Hockey Radio Network. Pregame coverage will begin 30 minutes prior to puck drop at 3:30 p.m.
There will be no television coverage for pre-season action. However, throughout the 2018-19 regular season, OHL fans with cable television in Ontario can add the OHL Action Pak to their television plan to catch the Firebirds in action, home or away all season long. The majority of the Firebirds’ 68 games throughout the 2018-19 season are scheduled to be televised live across the province of Ontario on the OHL Action Pak.
Fans can watch the Firebirds three exhibition games from the OHL Preseason Showcase online for $8.95 each contest here. All Flint Firebirds home and away games throughout the 2018-19 season can be watched anywhere in the world online on www.ohllive.com or on the OHL Live app. OHL Live is a league video streaming platform that delivers high quality live and on-demand coverage of all regular season and playoff games annually. The cost is $6.99 per game, $69.99 for Flint Firebirds away games only, $179.99 for all 68 home and away Firebirds games and $279.99 for all 1,360 OHL games throughout the 2017-18 season.
For more information: