Good managing by Branch

Randy Russon
September 26, 2018

Staring adversity straight into the eyes just two games into the 2018-2019 Ontario Hockey League regular season, Flint Firebirds general manager Barclay Branch did not blink.

Instead, cool hand Branch went out and made a nice, safe trade with the London Knights that gave Flint a needed presence on its back end.

Indeed, the trade that brought 2000 birth year defenseman Ryan Bangs to Flint buys the Firebirds some valuable time as they deal with the absence of injured defender Dennis Busby.

The hard-luck Busby, who missed all of the 2017-2018 OHL season — except for two games — with an upper body injury, is hurt again. The slick, cerebral, 2000 birth year defender recently broke his foot while blocking a shot at the National Hockey League training camp of the Arizona Coyotes and is expected to be sidelined for another six weeks.

Flint began the 2018-2019 OHL season minus Busby and 1999 birth year defenseman Fedor Gordeev, who suffered a concussion at the NHL camp of the Toronto Maple Leafs and was then hit with a case of strep throat.

Without the veteran presence of Busby and the 6-foot-6 Gordeev on defense, Flint was shellacked in each of its first two games of the season, falling to the Kitchener Rangers by a 6-2 score before being drubbed 12-1 by the Erie Otters.

Now, with Busby on the shelf until early November, the acquisition of Bangs from London gives Flint an able body on the blue line without having had to give up a player from the Firebirds active roster in return.

Dealing from stockpiled depth, Branch sent an excess third round pick in 2019 to London for Bangs, who the Knights had taken in the third round of the 2016 OHL priority selections draft.

Bangs spent most of the past two terms developing in both the Central Canada Hockey League and Greater Ontario Jr. Hockey League. But again there was no room for him in London this season as the Knights are deep on the blue line with older, experienced defensemen.

To be sure, Branch expects the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Bangs to play a major role for Flint despite having only seven games of OHL experience, all with London during the 2017-2018 campaign.

“Ryan possesses speed, skill, passion and a high compete level. We look forward to having Ryan play a key role for the Firebirds moving forward,” Branch relayed.

London general manager Mark Hunter sees the trade as being good for both Bangs and Flint.

“You look at the depth of our hockey club and we have older guys on our back end,” said Hunter. “Bangs needs to play and going to Flint is a good opportunity for that.”

Meanwhile, as Flint has added Bangs to its group, Branch and the Firebirds remain in position to possibly add another seasoned defensemen for head coach Ryan Oulahen and his staff to utilize.

Currently, Flint has room for another overage player and Branch, in previous years as an OHL GM with the Sudbury Wolves, showed a penchant for dealing extra draft picks for serviceable, dependable, 20-year old defensemen.

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