The 2018 OHL Champion Hamilton Bulldogs brought the J. Ross Robertson Cup to Hamilton City Hall on Tuesday, celebrating with over 300 faithful fans on a warm, sunny day in Steeltown.
The Bulldogs won their first OHL Championship in just their third season before finishing as Mastercard Memorial Cup Semi-Finalists, playing to a 2-2 record in Regina last week.
Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger and Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer spoke to the crowd to lead off the proceedings before head coach John Gruden, president and general manager Steve Staios and team captain Justin Lemcke had an opportunity to say thank you.
“It’s something I envisioned when we first took over the team and started to get to work on it,” said Staios of the overwhelming show of support. “It really is something that I thought about so to be here today is pretty emotional. I’m proud to be a Hamiltonian and to be able to bring them a championship.”
“It’s pretty incredible,” echoed Lemcke. “It’s a Tuesday afternoon and people are probably leaving work to come out and support us so it’s been a lot of fun.”
In addition to bringing the city it’s first OHL Championship since 1976, the Bulldogs were both Eastern Conference and East Division champions, playing to a regular season record of 43-18-4-3 before eliminating the Ottawa 67’s, Niagara IceDogs and Kingston Frontenacs in five games each. They hoisted the Robertson Cup after defeating the CHL’s top-ranked Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in six.
Playoff highlights included St. Louis Blues prospect Robert Thomas earning the Wayne Gretzky ’99’ Award as OHL Playoff MVP, MacKenzie Entwistle’s overtime winner in Game 1 of the Rogers OHL Championship Series in Sault Ste. Marie as well as 12 and 13-game point streaks from Nicholas Caamano and Ryan Moore respectively.
The Bulldogs had mixed results at the 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup in Regina, suffering an opening night 3-2 loss to the host Pats on a last minute game winner. They scored consecutive victories over the Swift Current Broncos (2-1) and eventual champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan (3-2) to reach the Semi-Final where Regina once again rallied for a 4-2 win despite Hamilton carrying a commanding 46-24 advantage on the shot clock.
“There’s a lot of positives to come out and ones still yet to come,” reflected 19-year-old defenceman Riley Stillman following the semi-final. “There’s guys that are going to get drafted this year and guys who are going to sign contracts that weren’t going to – guys like Brandon Saigeon and Ryan Moore who have had tremendous years. There’s a lot of things to look forward to outside of hockey too, guys being lawyers or doctors or carpenters and big things to look at that way.
“We still go down winners,” he added. “We beat the Soo, we beat Kingston, we beat all these good teams and we just want to be remembered as winners and I think we are.”
A team with a strong overage core consisting of Lemcke, Moore and defenceman Connor Walters also featured nine players drafted or signed by NHL clubs. Several Bulldogs will go their separate ways, but they’ll always carry the special memory of a team that banded together to play some of its best hockey when it mattered most to establish an OHL Championship legacy.
For more coverage of the Bulldogs’ championship celebration, visit hamiltonbulldogs.com.