When I returned home a short while later, I stuffed my pack with a recent garage sale find, The Rink – Stories from Hockey’s Hometowns by Chris Cuthbert and Scott Russell, several drafts of a short story I am in the final stages of writing about growing up a hockey child, and a folder full of double sided sheets of foolscap paper on which I wrote my first novella as a child, about the dream of professional hockey in Hamilton. At the front of the stack, a Sports Illustrated magazine with an image I had waited 22 years to see, of Raymond Bourque holding the Stanley Cup. Mission 16W (Wins). A true image of determination, and what it means to never give up on your dreams.
I felt the need to keep what hockey has meant to me all my life, close to my heart this day. A note pad, pen, and my laptop, all weighing me down, but I was ready to feel hockey in my bones.
I walked up the stairs to the top of Jackson Square with supporting Jim Balsillie and the dream of the NHL on my mind. I don’t usually attend rallies, but this entire battle has had me intrigued since the early stages. Something inside of me just had to be a part of this.
As I approached the main stage, closer to the Coliseum, I found it encouraging to see hockey so alive in Hamilton in June.
There were Tiger-Cats fans and Argos suck signs; a foreshadow of what would surely become another animated cross-highway rivalry. I see the McMaster Marauder’s mascot, many corporate sponsors, radio and television crews and a sea of signs and posters made by hockey fans from all walks of life. I see NHL jersey’s like the Jets, Bruins, Pens, Team Canada, and many others. There are families and business people a like.
Some were on celebrity watch. ‘Hey, isn’t that so and so?” one man whispers to his wife; pointing at someone just over my right shoulder. One father dances with his daughter, energized at the thought of the NHL finally coming to town.
A couple of fans carried nets and hockey sticks to the top of Jackson Square, looking to get a good game of street hockey going. There were quite a few different characters in the crowd, but for the most part, they were all there to support professional hockey in Hamilton.
I walked around to enjoy many different vantage points; to get a good look at all the faces and what was going on around the rally. Overhearing fans all around me talking hockey; people watching, all the while taking in what the various speakers had to say on the main stage.
I attended Friday’s event with the thought of writing something about NHL hockey, but then I started to notice a lot of jersey’s from the professional hockey team that already calls Hamilton home, and has done so for the past 13 years.
Throughout this entire bid to re-locate the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, I have wondered about the fate of the Bulldogs, but it wasn’t until reading that Mike Andlauer was considering the possibility of moving the Bulldogs to the Mile One Centre, and bringing hockey back to the passionate and hockey hungry fans of St. John’s, that I realized that the Bulldogs have been neglected throughout this whole process.
The Dogs are the first and only team for which I have been a season ticket holder. Even the early years that I wasn’t a season ticket holder, I still attended most of the games. The AHL is great hockey. Fast paced, physical, and loaded with talent. Guys fighting to make it to the big show. Working hard every day to realize their childhood dreams of playing in the NHL.
The first time I was ever published in the Hamilton Spectator, was a story I wrote about the Bulldogs and the excitement in this city and in the hearts of area hockey fans, when we hosted the Houston Aeros in a game seven of a winner takes all professional championship game. The game, and the moment I held my first published article in my hand, will always hold a very special place in my heart. If that wasn’t extraordinary enough, the Bulldogs also published an extended version of that story with photos, on the home page of the their website. I stared at the Bulldogs website on and off for weeks; enjoying my moment in the spotlight.
I am a father of two young girls now so I haven’t been to many games over the past few years, but I still love the Bulldogs. I remember sitting with my dad and my first born when she was a baby, and watching the television as the Bulldogs finally brought championship hardware to the great city of Hamilton.
I was hoping this coming season, that I could finally take my oldest to her first professional hockey game. I would like it to be the Bulldogs because they have been there for us, when the NHL continually denied us the opportunity to realize our National League dreams. She loved her first Tiger-Cat game last season, and I know she would love the Bulldogs and bruiser and seeing all the other kids as well. I also realize now more than ever, that her first hockey jersey has to be a Bulldogs jersey. They deserve to be remembered for everything they have meant to this city, and for everything they have given back to this community.
The Bulldogs have given me some fond memories. I hope there is some way we can make them part of our long term plans. I can’t imagine never again hearing the announcer calling out over the PA at the Dog Pound, “Hear are YOUR Hamilton Bull-dogs”.
How long can we continue to support and fight for something, that won’t even give us the time of day? I realize this is truly the fist time a bid actually makes business sense in a revitalized Hamilton, and with someone with the money, support, and devotion to make this happen, but I am not sure I can continue to sustain my appetite to see the NHL come to Hamilton, when they continually turn up their noses on something that on paper, makes business sense – never mind a passion for the game kind of sense.
After the GMO’s played one final song to end the rally, I looked into the crowd for the Bulldogs jerseys, and made my way over to chat with some of them. I was curious as to what their main reason for attending the rally was.
“We want to see the NHL come to Hamilton just as much as the next person, but we also wanted to show our support for the Dogs. I think it stinks that the Bullodg’s have been overlooked throughout this process. I heard them saying things today like Let’s bring a hockey team to Hamilton,’ ‘un-served hockey fans,’ and I think to myself, but we do have a professional team. We are being ‘served’. How many great players have we seen develop right here in this city? We seem to be forgetting that. You know, they didn’t mention the Bulldogs once. I just think they deserve more respect than that.”
One couple, talked about traveling to many away games and the support for the AHL in places like Syracuse and Manitoba. There was also talk that perhaps we could support both the NHL and AHL like Philadelphia and the Flyers/Phantoms.
Perhaps if Hamilton played home to its own farm team?
Many of the people I had the pleasure of chatting with this past Friday were true hockey fans. Fans of the Fincups and Hamilton Canucks; the Steelhawks, and the Bulldogs. They remember the Dukes and have been to many Kilty B’s, Real McCoys, and Hamilton Red Wings games. They have been supporting Hamilton hockey all this time, no matter what team the organizers put before them, or whether it was professional or otherwise.
Oddly enough, every Bulldog’s fan I talked to was a season ticket holder. They have been supporters of the Bulldogs through good and bad, for the better part of the past 13 years.
When I go to a Bullodgs game, I see a lot of special needs, kids groups, youth hockey teams and large families taking in the games. I wonder how much they will be able to support an NHL team? How many games could they or community groups, be able to afford?
I’d love to see an NHL team here. I think of the jobs that could follow as a result, perhaps less eastbound QEW traffic if more people could find work locally instead of having to travel to the GTA. I think of a revitalized state-of-the-art Copps, and a new waterfront home for the Cats. There are so many thing that excite me when I think of what this could mean for Hamilton, but I can’t help in the back of my mind, thinking of what we might be sacrificing to bring something to Hamilton, that really hasn’t shown any interest over the years to include our city; our home, into it’s plans.
The NHL isn’t ‘hockey’. I think that is the main thing we have to realize and remember. Hockey is in our hearts. On the streets, in parking lots, in the family room on a Saturday night. It’s not about one league, it’s about what the game means to our communities.
Maybe it’s time to take a long, hard look at our professional hockey dreams, and what we stand to lose; not just what we stand to gain.
Now with the talks of a possible move of the Bulldogs to St. John’s, and a few obstacles in our NHL plans, there is a chance of having no professional team in Hamilton. That wouldn’t be good for this city on so many levels.
I thank Mr. Balsille for his determination and what he is trying to bring to the City of Hamilton and Southern Ontario in general. I truly appreciate his efforts. I am a supporter, but I just think there is one important thing we are forgetting about.
Let’s give our existing professional hockey team the respect they deserve. They are and have been, hockey Hamilton for as long as I can remember. I am not sure I am ready to watch 13 years of history thrown away.
GO Dogs GO. No amount of time will ever erase the memories you have skated into our heartts.