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OHL 20 in 20 Spotlight: Bulldogs back with new look, new identity

The Hamilton Bulldogs are gearing up for their second season in the Ontario Hockey League, eager to bring playoff hockey back to Steeltown for the first time since 2011.

While the on-ice product is their primary focus, the Dogs will be sporting some new threads in 2016-17, with a colour scheme closely resembling another team that is near and dear to the hearts of Hamiltonians.

Shifting away from the Montreal Canadiens theme of red, white and blue, the Bulldogs will patrol FirstOntario Centre in black and gold, a similar look to the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger Cats.

“The Bulldogs brand is very strong in Hamilton but the colour change certainly appealed to us,” said president and general manager Steve Staios, a Hamilton product who played parts of 16 NHL seasons. “We put it to a vote with our fans, and the verdict came back overwhelmingly in favour of black and gold. There are a lot of great hockey fans in Hamilton, Burlington, Stoney Creek and surrounding areas, and I think they’re proud to call this team their own.”

While the Bulldogs didn’t reach the playoffs in their inaugural season, there were a number of victories for the franchise off the ice.

“Year one was a successful season for us in a lot of areas,” Staios continued. “We certainly ingrained ourselves in the community from a charitable perspective. We really knocked it out of the park there. Our players were engaged in community events and charitable causes so that was terrific for us. As a Hamilton guy that was very important for us because I know how influential junior hockey was to me growing up in this area.”

With several off-season changes now in place including the appointing of Staios to the role of general manager and the hiring of new head coach John Gruden, players are excited to get started.

“It’s a new atmosphere,” veteran defenceman Justin Lemcke told Teri Pecoskie of The Hamilton Spectator. “Steve is great and he brought in great people. I think everyone is a little more excited this year to come back and get to work.”

The Bulldogs lose just two players to graduation in veterans Brody Morris and Jack Hidi while both Evan Krassey (Gatineau Olympiques) and Mitchell Mendonca (London Knights) were released to pursue tryouts with other clubs.

With a lot of players competing for a limited number of spots, the pre-season promises to be competitive in Hamilton as players battle for roles and responsibilities.

“They have to understand they are competing for spots and ice time and power play and penalty kill. And coaches, at the end of the day, always like kids they know they can trust,” Gruden told The Spectator. “That’s the message.”

ontariohockeyleague.com will feature one team each day in advance of the 2016-17 season which begins Wednesday September 21.

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