Today, I said goodbye to a friend.
We went through a lot. We grew up together. We shared success, we supported eachother when needed, and we couldn’t stay away for too long. We created many fantastic memories, but now, it’s all gone.
Goodbye Hamilton Bulldogs, I’ll miss you.
I’ve been a Bulldogs fans for about twelve years now. The very first game I saw was between Hamilton and the St. John’s Maple Leafs, now known as the Toronto Marlies. At first, I didn’t really think much of it. The two teams may have had jerseys that resembled NHL teams, but it wasn’t the NHL. Back then, I didn’t realize there was anything but the big league. So to find out about this other place, known as the American Hockey League, actually existed (I’ve still yet to see a game in America) really didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
It didn’t take a lot of me to get hooked at the point. It was crazy to think that some of those players that I was watching there would get a chance to play with the Montreal Canadiens someday. It seemed like such a cool idea, getting a chance to see these players develop before anyone else did. I got to see Thomas Plekanec, PK Subban, Carey Price, Jaroslav Halak, Mikhail Grabovski, both Kostitsyn brothers and many, many more hone their craft before making the jump to the big leagues.
I’ve had a ton of great memories at Bulldogs games. all starting with their Calder Cup championship back in 2007. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a chance to attend any of their final games, but listening to the broadcasts on the radio really got me interested in hockey media. The energy, the excitement, everything about it was just awesome. Seeing Carey Price, Corey Locke, Duncan Milroy, Andre Benoit, Yann Danis and Mikhail Grabovski strive every night was something I’ll never forget.
I was lucky enough to attend the 2012 AHL Outdoor Classic between the Bulldogs and Toronto Marlies. With game-time temperatures at minus-4 Celsius (it felt more like minus-12 on the side with the shade), the hometown Bulldogs got demolished 7-2 against their biggest rivals from down the road. It was cold, the vantage point was terrible and the game was never that interesting, but it was an event I still remember vividly to this day. Seeing players fight on and off the ice in the coldest temperatures they’ll ever play in is something worth checking out. Oh, and Louis Leblanc’s diving goal was something special, too.
On September 27th, 2013, I covered my very first professional as a media member between the two teams I’d seen play over 20 times, the Bulldogs and Marlies. It was that day that I realized being a journalist was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Was it the line brawl before the first period was even over? Maybe. Was it the start to Mike Condon’s AHL career that got me pumped? Well, probably not, but it was still cool. Was it the fact that I was actually getting paid to talk about the sport I dedicate a lot of my life too?
Yes, that’s the reason. I’ve been able to cover some cool events over the past few years, including the OJHL finals, the World Juniors, OHL games and even a Toronto Maple Leafs game. But it was that September evening that really stood out to me, covering a team I grew up watching every week. That was one of the coolest feelings in the world.
The AHL may be gone from Hamilton, leaving it’s many faithful fans behind. But taking it’s place are the new Hamilton Bulldogs, replacing the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. You’ll see a lot of OHL coverage from me next season, focusing on a team that, despite changing forms, helped really get me into hockey. If you look at it that way, it’s not so bad. Out with the old, in with the new. But it just wont be the same, and for the moment, it’s sad. But getting a junior hockey team during a time where the level is better than ever before may actually be great for the city.
I’ve always been a person to cheer for players that maybe aren’t the most well known. The Bulldogs are a big reason for that. How many people that you run into will say that Corey Locke, Duncan Milroy, Yann Danis, Cedrick Desjardins, Pierre Dagenais, Andre Benoit and Jason Ward? Nobody outside of Hamilton, most likely. But that’s the effect that minor hockey has on people. These guys don’t have big contracts. They likely wont become the next Wayne Gretzky. They do it because they have something to prove. They want to become the next Wayne Gretzky. They want to make seven figures a year. They want to do something in the sport they love. And there’s something special about that.
Thanks for the memories.