Flint, Mich. – The Firebirds put on an impressive show in front of an Opening Night near sellout crowd of 3,958 fans Saturday at the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center. Flint earned an early 2 – 0 lead on goals by first-year forward Evgeniy Oksentyuk and Connor Roberts. Niagara fought back and tied the game, forcing overtime and the eventual shootout. Ty Dellandrea (Dallas Stars) and Evan Vierling tallied in the shootout to give the ‘Birds the eventual 3 – 2 victory. Anthony Popovich played stellar between the pipes, turning aside 35 of 37 shots and shutting down two of the ‘Dogs three skaters in the shootout. With the victory, Flint improves to 2-1-0-0 on the season.
Oksentyuk sprung free on an all-out breakaway early in the opening frame. He put on a stickhandling clinic as he crossed between the circles. He waited for netminder Tucker Tynan to commit before slipping the puck just inside the left post for his first career OHL goal. Fellow Belarusian Vladislav Kolyachonok (Florida Panthers) and Evan Vierling picked up the assists on the game’s first goal, scored just 2:08 into the game.
Connor Roberts scored his second of the season at 6:15 to put Flint in the lead by two. Evan Vierling made a cross-ice pass to Oksentyuk streaking up the right-wing side in the neutral zone. Oksentyuk carried the puck around the end boards and dished a backhand pass to Roberts in the slot for a quick snapshot that beat Tynan mid-height, far side. The goal was Roberts’ second of the campaign. Vierling and Oksentyuk each earned their second point of the night with the assists.
Just past the midway point of the first period, Oliver Castleman scored his third of the season on the IceDogs’ only power-play opportunity in the frame. Kyen Sopa and Philip Tomasino (Nashville Predators) were credited with the helpers. Shots-on-goal were 12 – 11 in Niagara’s favor after 20 minutes of play.
Despite the IceDogs outshooting Flint 18 – 6 in the second period, Popovich stood strong and preserved the 2 – 1 lead.
Niagara forward Jackson Doherty tied the contest at 8:15 of the third period on a rebound from the doorstep. It was his first of the season, assisted by Sopa and Tomasino. The goal was the only marker in the third period. Flint outshot the ‘Dogs 15 – 6 in the third, for a sixty-minute deficit of 36 – 32 on the shot clock.
In the five-minute overtime frame, the Firebirds maintained possession in the Niagara zone for roughly four of the five minutes. Flint generated two quality shots on goal compared to one for the visitors, but the score was still knotted at two.
Both shooters were blanked in the first round of the shootout. Dellandrea sniped a wrister top-shelf, blocker-side. Sopa came back and scored for Niagara to even things up after two rounds. The difference-maker was Vierling’s wrister that beat Tynan low to the blocker side. Tomasino took the last shot of the game for the visitors, but Popovich made the pad save to preserve the victory and earn ‘First-Star’ honors. Oksentyuk was the game’s second star, and Kyen Sopa was named third star.
Next Home Game
Opening weekend continues Sunday when the Firebirds host the Sarnia Sting at 2 p.m. Sunday’s game is the first Firebirds’ Family “FUN”day. The Sunday “FUN”day games feature up to two free kids’ tickets (12 & under) with the purchase of an adult ticket, as well as a post-game ‘skate with Firebirds players, and bounce houses for the kids. The official Flint Firebirds’ magnet schedule will be handed out to fans as they exit the building.
There will also be a Car Show from 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. in the Dort Federal Event Center Parking Lot. Fans with concept cars or out-of-production classics can show off their cars, receive 2 Silver Level Tickets and free parking for $20! In addition, the first 50 cars registered will receive a FREE hockey and Hot Rods T-shirt.
Single game tickets for all Firebirds games are $12 / Bronze, $16 / Silver, $20 / Gold and $26 / VIP seating (Seating Chart). All seats are reserved / assigned seating. Fans can purchase tickets by calling (810) 744-0580, in-person at the Dort Federal Event Center Box Office or online at ticketmaster.com here.
Photo Credit: Todd Boone & Emma Phillips / Flint Firebirds
For more information:
Director of Broadcasting & Communications
Flint Firebirds Hockey Club