There’s something extra special about a franchise’s first championship and the Hamilton Bulldogs are still celebrating, taking the Robertson Cup on tour.
Head coach John Gruden has taken an assistant coaching position with the New York Islanders and several graduates are thinking about the next stage of their careers set to take flight this fall, but players have been eager to relive the thrill of championship glory experienced back in May when the Bulldogs bounced the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in six games.
Though they went on to Regina where they fell to the host Pats in the Mastercard Memorial Cup Semi-Final, it still feels like yesterday that captain Justin Lemcke was being mobbed with the Robertson Cup at centre ice of FirstOntario Centre, signalling the end of a 21-game playoff journey that went through Ottawa, Niagara, Kingston and Sault Ste. Marie.
Local hero Brandon Saigeon led the Bulldogs with 18 playoff goals and recently had the opportunity to celebrate with the Robertson Cup alongside fellow Hamilton-area talent Nicholas Caamano. The two took the trophy to McMaster Children’s Hospital before each spending time with family and friends.
“We shared it with the kids, tried to put some smiles on their faces even if they’re in tough situations,” said Saigeon, who hails from nearby Grimsby. “There’s a sense of sadness when you see kids going through stuff like that, but if you can just bring them a smile you feel like you made a little bit of a difference. That was really the highlight for me.”
Saigeon added that the tremendous honour of being an OHL champion really sunk in when he had a chance to survey some of the names listed on the trophy.
“It’s big and you don’t realize how heavy it is until you see it in person,” he said with a laugh. “Seeing names like Bobby Orr and other legends really hammers home what an honour it is to be an OHL champion and it will always be a special part of my life.”
South of the border, five-year OHL veteran Ryan Moore celebrated his first OHL title after 321 career regular season games, joining coach Gruden and other Michigan-based teammates in Ben Gleason and goaltender Nick Donofrio in Rochester Hills. Moore then took the trophy to Grand Blanc where he visited with former billets Kortne and Jeb Stolicker.
“The people in Flint meant a lot to me during my time as a Firebird,” said Moore. “We took it out to a lake property and had a really nice time. Later on I had about 20-30 people at my house, a combination of family, friends and a lot of people from the neighbourhood who supported me throughout my career. I feel really lucky to have those people in my life.”
Saigeon and Moore were both rewarded for their big contributions in the championship run, with the former being selected by the Colorado Avalanche in the fifth round of the NHL Draft and the latter signing an AHL contract with the Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies.
“I kind of look back and think about my career and it’s been a long road, a lot of games, a lot of good times,” noted Moore. “To be able to get the opportunity to play for Hamilton was something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. The bonds that I made with those guys, the staff, the coaches and the people of Hamilton, I can’t say enough about it.
“It was a dream to win an OHL Championship with those guys.”
The J. Ross Robertson Cup has also made stops with Matthew Strome and his billet family in Hamilton as well as a recent trip to North Bay as Ben Garagan and Jake Gravelle had their days with the trophy.
The 2018-19 OHL season is 43 days away, but the party continues for the Hamilton Bulldogs before they begin their title defence on Friday September 21st in North Bay.
Over 20 days in August ontariohockeyleague.com will shine a summer spotlight on storylines from all 20 OHL clubs. See more from the OHL 20 in 20 series.