As people lined four deep through the streets of Hamilton last month to honor one of their own, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo’s casket was en route from the funeral home to the church in a procession that included Cirillo’s family at the front of it. As that procession made its way past the FirstOntario Centre, Hamilton Bulldogs president Stephen Ostaszewicz was struck by the gravity of it all.
Cirillo was the young man who was killed the morning of Oct. 22 as he stood on ceremonial sentry duty at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa. The shooting and subsequent attack on Parliament Hill stunned the nation, but it hit the closely knit city of Hamilton particularly hard, something Ostaszewicz witnessed first hand when he saw Cirillo’s five-year old son, Marcus, walking in the procession.
“I watched him march in the procession with his grandmother and his aunt,” Ostaszewicz said. “And a lot of the people here, both on the Global Spectrum side and the team side, were touched by it.”
Shortly after that, Ostaszewicz contemplated the obstacles that young Marcus would face without his father and on the day when Canada honors its fallen soldiers with Remembrance Day and the United States honors those who have served in its armed forces with Veterans Day, the Bulldogs announced a major fundraiser to help Nathan’s Cirillo’s son.
The Bulldogs have dubbed their Dec. 5 American League game against the Toronto Marlies as Military Appreciation Night, during which they hope to raise at least $50,000 for a trust fund for Marcus Cirillo. To mark the occasion, the Bulldogs will wear a special commemorative sweater designed in conjunction with the Cirillo family that will include his corporal rank on the shoulder, as well as the cap and badge insignia of his Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment that will also appear on the pant shell. The front of the sweater will also carry a patch that reads, “In Memory of Cpl. Cirillo.” The socks will also have the pattern that is on the socks of the Argyll and Sutherland Regiment. The team will also wear black helmets donated by Reebok. Marcus, along with Cirillo’s father, Vic, and sister, Natasha, will be welcomed to the ice by pipers and drummers from Cirillo’s regiment before performing the ceremonial puck drop.
The Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs minor hockey club has agreed to move several of its games from its Reebok Classic tournament, which is also being held that weekend, to the FirstOntario Centre (formerly Copps Coliseum). Three of the tournament’s games will be played prior to the Bulldogs-Marlies game to make it easier for the participants to stay for the AHL game. Cirillo’s cousin, Ryan, plays minor bantam for the Jr. Bulldogs and his uncle, Stan, is the tournament director.
Two dollars from each ticket sold for the game will go to the trust fund and the team will hold an on-line auction to sell off each sweater (which will be autographed by the entire team), as well as the pant shells and helmets. There will also be a number of in-game fundraisers. Ostaszewicz is confident the team can raise at least $50,000, all of which will go to the trust fund for Marcus Cirillo.
“(Marcus) has got a life ahead of him where he’s not going to know his dad,” Ostaszewicz said. “So if we can rally together to put him in the best economic situation possible so he can live life to the fullest without being disadvantaged…for us it really hits home.”
With more than 17,000 seats in the FirstOntario Centre, the Bulldogs would be more than halfway to their goal if they can manage to sell out the arena for a Friday night game, so surpassing $50,000 should be possible. “I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver,” Ostaszewicz said.