By DENIS GIBBONS So, now they come?! Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer was probably trying to figure that one out when more than 10,000 fans paid to see an AHL game in Hamilton, Ont., Saturday night. The sad news is the Bulldogs' 4-3 shootout loss to the Lake Erie Monsters was their farewell to the steel city. The franchise will relocate to St. John’s, Nfld., until a new arena is ready in Laval, a suburb of Montreal.
Mid-week games at Hamilton’s First Ontario Centre sometimes attracted fewer than 2,000 fans. The Bulldogs name will live on, however, with the arrival of a new OHL franchise for the 2015-16 season. The Belleville Bulls sold their franchise to Andlauer after the City of Belleville refused to make improvements to the tiny arena there.
The Bulldogs are the fourth consecutive team to fail in Hamilton, a city of half-a-million, in which 20 percent of the population lives below the line of poverty. Between 1984 and 1991 Hamilton had two consecutive franchises in the OHL, the Steelhawks and the Dukes. Then the Canucks arrived in 1992 as an AHL farm club of Vancouver and stayed for two seasons. The Bulldogs first season was 1996-97, when they were a chattel of the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers and Canadiens shared affiliation for 2005-06, until the Canadiens took over full time with Andlauer as the owner.
Prior to that, the Hamilton Red Wings won the Memorial Cup in 1962 and the Hamilton Fincups did the same in 1976. During their 19 years in Hamilton, the Bulldogs won the Calder Cup in 2007 behind the spectacular goaltending of Carey Price and finished as finalists twice, losing to Hershey in 1996-97 and Houston in 2002-03. Six Bulldogs will join the Canadiens as reserves for the playoffs, including left winger Charles Hudon, the team's rookie of the year. The others are goalie Mike Condon, defensemen Brett Lernout and Darren Dietz, right winger Christian Thomas and left winger Daniel Carr.