Flint Firebirds hire George Burnett as GM, name Joe Stefan assistant GM

Dhiren Mahiban

The off ice shake up to the Flint Firebirds organization continued on Tuesday as George Burnett was announced as the club’s general manager and Joe Stefan was appointed the team’s assistant general manager and director of player development.

Both Burnett and Stefan have signed new three-year contracts with the hockey club.

Burnett replaces Terry Christensen, who after one season as GM of the Firebirds, is no longer with the organization. Stefan was previously the Firebirds’ interim head coach and assistant general manager.

According to Burnett, the Firebirds will have a new head coach in place within a week.

“It’s a terrific opportunity, very exciting to have a new direction and I look forward to the role,” Burnett told Yahoo Canada Sports. “The change in the role will no-doubt be different, but I look forward to supporting a coaching staff and leading the hockey operation.

“I know there’s a lot of good things happening with the young team, great fan base in Genesee County – terrific facility and a great set up with school and billets. We’re looking forward to putting a plan in place that makes the Flint Firebirds a destination and choice for families and players moving forward.”

Burnett joins the Firebirds after spending the past 12 seasons with the Belleville/Hamilton franchise where he was both the team’s head coach and general manager this past season.

The Bulldogs fired the 54-year-old in April after he guided Hamilton to a 25-35-8 record.

OHL Commissioner David Branch at the 2012 OHL Awards Ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Tuesday June 5, 2012. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images
OHL Commissioner David Branch at the 2012 OHL Awards Ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Tuesday June 5, 2012. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

In hiring Burnett as the club’s GM, it’s clear Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch, who is overseeing the club’s stewardship, supervision and direction while owner Rolf Nilsen serves his suspension, prefers the head coach and general manager roles held by two separate individuals.

“There’s been lots of discussion with my family and those from the league that have connected with me here over the last couple of weeks in discussing this role – I take a lot of pride in the fact that they’ve entrusted the hockey operation to me,” Burnett said. “I’m looking forward to dealing with the kids that are returning.

“The new draft, I think a lot of kids have some very strong credentials. Looking forward to setting orientation camp up next week and then ultimately connecting with our returning players and letting their families know what can be expected moving forward here.”

Given all the issues the Firebirds had with Nilsen interfering with the club’s hockey operations, including firing his coaching staff on two separate occasions, Burnett admitted he did his due diligence prior to accepting the position with Flint.

“In my discussions with Mr. Branch and those at the league, very clear that our sole focus is on what’s happening moving forward,” Burnett said. “I think there’s already a lot of wonderful things already in place, and it’ll be our job to build on those things and move forward.

“I appreciate the fact that Joe Stefan has agreed to stay on board and he has great experience on a number of different levels with the team from his time in Plymouth and as well as last year so it’ll be a great resource for the program to have Joe continue his involvement.”

The Firebirds finished the 2015-16 season ninth in the Western Conference with a 20-42-6 record.