The Hamilton Bulldogs are four wins away from a Memorial Cup appearance.
As the team patiently awaits the winner of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Kitchener Rangers series, team and fans alike can reflect on the success this team has achieved.
Just three years into the current iteration of the Bulldogs, the city of Hamilton have been treated to a tantalizing product on and off the ice, and the team has improved each year.
The Bulldogs led the Eastern Division this year with an impressive 43-18-4-3 record, winning the division by 12 points. They’ve dropped only three games so far in the playoffs, dispatching the Ottawa 67s, Niagara Ice dogs, and Kingston Frontenacs each in five games.
They have been the toast of the Junior hockey world, a world that has recently experienced a tremendous amount of pain and hardship due to the terrible tragedy in Humboldt, Saskatchewan.
On the night after that that horrific event, the Hamilton Bulldogs were kind enough to allow me into the FirstOntario Center for their playoff game against the Niagara Ice Dogs. It was a night steeped in emotion and sadness, and the minute of silence for those effected in the crash was only broken by the subtle sound of thousands of people sniffling as they fought to stop the tears. On a night where millions of Canadians were hurting from coast to coast, hockey helped us heal.
It is in moments like these when you realize how much the game of hockey means to this country. How a terrible tragedy can be numbed and treated with the sound of the skate blade cutting through the fresh ice, and the clang of the boards as a victorious goal scorer leaps for joy into the plexiglass.
For the city of Hamilton, these Bulldogs are just the latest team to capture the city's hearts on the ice. The Hamilton Tigers played in the NHL from 1920-1925, playing in the old Barton Street Arena. The team struggled to compete with the formidable Canadians and Toronto St. Pats, and famously enjoyed only one successful season: their final one, when a player’s strike forced the first place Tigers out of the league. When the Cape Breton Oilers of the AHL moved to the city in 1996, Hamilton finally had a professional hockey team again.
The AHL Bulldog run was a successful one, an era which brought with it three Calder Cup appearances, and one victory in 2007. Trading allegiances from the Edmonton Oilers to the Montreal Canadians in 2002, the Bulldogs were a staple for all Hamiltonians who grew up in the era. If you played hockey in the various city leagues, you attended a Bulldog game at the end of the year. And the opportunity to play on the ice of the former Copps Coliseum during an intermission was an experience each team hoped happened to them.
It was difficult to lose the AHL Bulldogs, and for a brief moment the inconceivable seemed to be inevitable. Somehow, the city of Hamilton was going to be without hockey. But then Michael Andlauer, the owner of the AHL Bulldogs made a deal that guaranteed the city would still have their beloved team. He purchased the Belleville Bulls, moved them into town, and just like that Hamilton had an OHL team.
Like many others, I was skeptical of the ‘new’ Bulldogs. For my entire life, the team had been a professional hockey team. I thought of the OHL as a step down and feared that the team would not be competitive.
Clearly, I was wrong.
It’s easy for those of us in the Toronto area to become disconnected from the rest of the country. Within sixty kilometers of my location, there are two professional basketball teams (Raptors, Raptors 905), two professional hockey teams (Leafs, Marlies), a professional football team (Argos), and a professional baseball team (Jays). In a market so steeped with professional sports, one sometimes overlooks the value junior hockey plays in this country.
There are entire provinces who do not have a professional team. And for the majority of Ontario, hours away from the familiar Rogers Center and ACC, junior hockey is all they have.
In Hamilton’s case, it is all the city needs.
The team is full of young athletes, who play because they have hopes and dreams in the sport, and not because it’s a job to them. Everyone, from the coaching staff and players to management dream of proving themselves enough to take that next step. The result is something pure and uncynical, a no nonsense approach that is blunt and to the point. It’s no wonder the team fits so well with the steel-producing gritty city. Hamilton is the same way.
Four wins. That’s all the Bulldogs need. Four wins to represent the OHL in the Memorial cup. A tournament celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, donated at the conclusion of the first World War. In the entire 100 year history of the trophy, no team from Hamilton has ever won it. The Hamilton Dukes, the only other OHL team in the city’s history never got close.
But it’s a different era, and a different team.
And the way the team has looked, four wins seem like a formality at this point.
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Alex Taylor is a graduate of McMaster University, with degrees in Anthropology and History, and a minor in classics. Alex currently attends Sheridan College, where he is working on a Journalism diploma.
Alex is also a novel writer, having written a manuscript, and he is currently working on another (fiction)
Alex Taylor writes more frequently on his website, TheFanLife.net
Alex has also written a published paper while attending McMaster University: an academic journal piece on the depictions of aging in the media.
And avid sports fan, Alex Taylor will be starting a podcast soon (titled thefanlife. It will be on Soundcloud).