When the puck drops on the 2019-2020 Hamilton Bulldogs’ season, the organization will begin to celebrate five years since the return of the Ontario Hockey League to the city of Hamilton. Since the arrival of the franchise in Hamilton, the Bulldogs have seen incredible success in a short window and turned heads across the hockey landscape. Under the leadership of current President & General Manager Steve Staios, the Bulldogs have made the playoffs in three straight seasons, won the Eastern Division, Eastern Conference, OHL Championship and competed for the Memorial Cup in Regina. When the puck drops in Sarnia on September 20th, the Bulldogs will be looking to add another successful chapter to this story.
On March 12th, 2015 the Hamilton Bulldogs announced that the Montreal Canadiens had decided to move their American Hockey League affiliate from Hamilton, with an eventual destination of Laval. In response, Hamilton Bulldogs Michael Andlauer once again reaffirmed his commitment to keep hockey in Hamilton by purchasing the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League, relocating the team to the FirstOntario Centre and renaming them the Hamilton Bulldogs. In addition, Michael Andlauer would bring Hamilton native and veteran of over 1,000 NHL games, Steve Staios back to Hamilton to be team President, creating quite the buzz around the launch of the franchise.
The Hamilton Bulldogs began their 2015-16 season in the Ontario Hockey League draft where the team would select Matthew Strome & Mackenzie Entwistle with the first two draft picks as an OHL organization, these selections would prove to form the foundation for four seasons in Hamilton. The team would immediately see some difficulty in their inaugural season and newly named captain Justin Lemcke would suffer a leg injury and be unable to play until late in the season. The Bulldogs would mainly see 2015-16 as a year of growth, acquiring young defenseman Ben Gleason just days into the season and would see the talents of young players Strome, Entwistle along with Matt Luff & Niki Petti breakout and rise to the forefront while veterans Michael Cramarossa & Stephen Harper would lead the team offensively. As the trade deadline rolled around the Bulldogs would move leading scorer Harper to the Niagara IceDogs, returning the draft pick that would eventually be used to select Arthur Kaliyev, and goaltender Charlie Graham to the Sarnia Sting for future franchise goaltender Kaden Fulcher. The Bulldogs would remain competitive all season but were not able to make the playoffs in year 1; however the groundwork had been laid for the team to take a big step forward in year 2
The 2016-17 season would see the Hamilton Bulldogs make massive strides, before the season began it was announced that Team President Steve Staios would take over as General Manager and bring in John Gruden as the team’s new head coach. As the season got underway, the Bulldogs would make a big splash adding Will Bitten from the Flint Firebirds to an already impressive looking offense with the likes of Petti, Luff, Saigeon, Strome & Entwistle. Hometown kid Isaac Nurse, who was an 11th round pick in 2015 would earn his spot on the team and quickly become a fan favourite for his hard-nosed style and explosive speed adding another element to a Bulldogs team which was quickly turning heads across the OHL. As the 2017 trade deadline arrived, the Hamilton Bulldogs were looking to solidify their backend for the a playoff run and solid veteran Dawson Carty was added from the Kitchener Rangers to be a battery mate for the acrobatic Kaden Fulcher in goal. The Bulldogs finished the season in 5th place in the Eastern Conference, just behind the Kingston Frontenacs following a tight race to the end of the season, leading to a first round matchup. In a back and forth battle through 7 games, the Bulldogs would come up just short, losing in overtime of the seventh and deciding game. Despite the hard end to the season, the Bulldogs looked like they were ready to take the next step to true Championship contenders.
BREAKING: The Hamilton Bulldogs have acquired Robert Thomas from the London Knights in exchange for Connor McMichael and picks.
The 2017-18 season would be an incredible ride for the Hamilton Bulldogs, starting the season hot and scoring goals in bunches, with an immediate contribution from rookie Arthur Kaliyev. Seeing the opportunity for something special in Hamilton, Steve Staios was quick to bulk up his already strong group with players such as Hamilton native Nick Caamano alongside Ryan Moore, mobile defensemen Riley Stillman and Nic Mattinen, and who can forget playoff MVP Robert Thomas. With these trades, the Bulldogs became a force to reckon with. The team would go on to clinch their first East Division & Eastern Conference regular season championships. The playoffs, however, would still be difficult however as the Bulldogs would have to face off with Ottawa, Niagara & Kingston, dispatching each opponent in five games before coming face to face with the team that went wire to wire ranked #1 in the Canadian junior hockey, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The Bulldogs would split the first two games in Sault Ste. Marie before the series turned to Hamilton, the Bulldogs would win Game 3 but the Greyhounds responded with a win in Game 4 taking home ice advantage back to the north. In Game 5 the Bulldogs would respond with a win and bring the series back to Hamilton with a chance to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup. It took a 3rd period comeback led by Mackenzie Entwistle & Robert Thomas but the Bulldogs would secure their first OHL Championship in front of a record crowd at First Ontario Centre for the team and earn the right to head to the Memorial Cup in Regina. The Bulldogs would put in a tremendous effort in the Memorial Cup tournament being eliminated in a very tight semi-final game, however the team did score a win over the eventual champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan in their only meeting of the tournament in the round robin. Following the Memorial Cup the 2018 OHL Champions were welcomed home with a party at City Hall put on by the City Of Hamilton that drew Hamilton Bulldogs fans from everywhere from Waterdown to Ancaster together one last time before the summer break started. The 2018 season became a milestone moment in Hamilton sports history.
Knowing that winning a championship comes with a price tag, the team would continue to move forward despite losing ten regulars from the OHL Championship team to start the 2018-19 season. Following the graduation of previous captain Justin Lemcke, the team would name Mackenzie Entwistle the 2nd captain of the team. The Bulldogs would see tremendous contributions from a quartet of 2018 draft picks, Logan Morrison, Avery Hayes, Michael Renwick & Frank Jenkins kept the team in the playoff conversation all through the season and 17-year old goaltender Zachary Roy would emerge to take the crease in his rookie season. As the trade deadline rolled around the Bulldogs would see veterans leave and new faces arrive as Mackenzie Entwistle, Brandon Saigeon & Nic Mattinen would all be moved along for another chance at an OHL Championship. The highlights of the season came from the newly created top line, and one of the OHL’s best, in as Strome, Jenik & Kaliyev combined to electrify the Hamilton fans. Jan Jenik would finish his 1st season as a Bulldog with better than a point-per-game (30 points in 27 games), Matt Strome would record his 3rd straight 25+ goal / 60+ point season, with a career high 79 points and Arthur Kaliyev would set Hamilton Bulldogs records with 51 goals and 102 points on the season, becoming the first Bulldog to cross those two milestones. Hamilton would face off with an Ottawa 67’s team that had loaded up at the OHL trade deadline to take their own run at a championship in a rematch of the previous year’s first round. Despite a showing of effort and heart, the Bulldogs would be dispatched in 4 games but you could see the future looks very bright for a young Hamilton Bulldogs team.
The year would end on a bright spot as Arthur Kaliyev would become the highest drafted Bulldog in team history being selected 33rd overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL Draft.
As the Hamilton Bulldogs head into their 5th year of play in the Ontario Hockey League we hope you will join us all season as we celebrate hockey in our great city, with all the festivities beginning Saturday September 21st when the Hamilton Bulldogs host the Erie Otters in the 2019-2020 home opener.
For Season Tickets and Flex Packs call 905-529-8500.