BREAKING: OHL Team is Relocating in Popular Ontario City

Published February 1, 2023 at 5:12 PM
BY S. HARPER
     
Say Goodbye to the Hamilton Bulldogs, the 2022 Ontario Hockey League champions are heading to the home of Wayne Gretzky in Brantford Ontario. The Hamilton Bulldogs were once the AHL affiliate to the Montreal Canadiens, but after they changed their affiliate to the Laval Rocket and the Bulldogs joined the OHL back in 2016.

The news was revealed by CHCH News and Brantford Ontario's Mayor Kevin Davis who shared this:

"The Bulldogs are coming," said Mayor Davis, who confirmed the Hamilton Bulldogs will play at the Brantford civic centre for at least three years starting with the 2023-24 season. This is a real shot in the arm for this community, It's a whole morale thing. It has been tough the last three years. This is going to bring some excitement and pride.»

Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer said team management had been considering several locations, including Brampton and Cornwall, to play while their home arena, FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, undergoes renovations.


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"The Bulldogs and other tenants at FirstOntario Centre, including the National Lacrosse League's Toronto Rock, got notice in early November that they would need to find new homes for the next two seasons." Andlauer said bringing the Bulldogs to Brantford, at least temporarily, is the right thing to do."

We were out in the cold and Brantford took us in, said Andlauer. The mayor is very enthusiastic and he was right on top of it. Brantford really wanted us. This is the right thing for the players and for our fans on the mountain."

"The OHL is regarded one of the top player development leagues in the world, and is a leading supplier of talent to the NHL" said Mayor Davis

"With its move from FirstOntario Centre to the civic centre, the Bulldogs will go from the largest rink in the OHL to the smallest, said Andlauer. FirstOntario Centre has a seating capacity of up to 19,000, while the civic centre's capacity is about 3,000.,But I guarantee it will be the loudest, he said. We're going to make it a great experience for the fans."

The city and team last week signed a memorandum of understanding, in which the Bulldogs agree to play in Brantford for three years, with an option to extend for three additional one-year terms.

The plan requires city council approval at a special meeting on Feb. 7.

The document also outlines how an estimated $10 million in upgrades to the civic centre will be carried out and paid for to bring the arena up to OHL standards.

An architect and engineers hired by the Bulldogs have been at the civic centre over the past few months assessing what needs to be done to the 56-year-old arena..

In the memorandum of understanding, the city will contribute $3 million from its «casino fund» to the arena upgrades, with the Bulldogs picking up the rest of the cost. If the Bulldogs decide to leave after three years, they will return the $3 million to the city. City staff is also recommending the city pay $1.5 million to install a new HVAC system.

Davis said taking the money from the casino fund, which currently has about $7 million, means taxpayers won't pay for any of the civic centre upgrades. Quarterly payments are made by the OLG to communities that host gaming sites. So far, during OLG's current fiscal year (April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023), Brantford has received just over $4 million.

Davis said the civic centre, which opened in 1967, needs significant upgrades. Work includes expansion of the dressing rooms, washrooms and concession areas. Major upgrades are needed to the arena lighting and sound system, and the boards, which are now glass, need to be replaced with acrylic panels. The work would need to be complete for the start of the Bulldogs' 2023-24 season.

"It's bringing the building up to 2023 modern arena standards,» said Davis. It won't just be used for hockey but a wide array of other events."

Brantford hasn't had an OHL franchise since the Alexanders played out of the civic centre from 1978 to 1984. Following the 1983-84 season, the Alexanders moved to Hamilton and became the Steelhawks.

In addition to being a psychological boost to the city, Davis said Bulldogs games will bring in an estimated $4 million a year in economic spinoffs with fans stopping at local restaurants and bars or spending some time at the neighbouring Elements Casino.

«We're a hockey town,» said Davis. «It's almost part of our DNA. We've produced the best player ever. This is great hockey coming back to Brantford.»

In December, the city retained the services of Ron Bidulka of KKR Advisors Ltd. to help facilitate discussions with the Bulldogs.

«Brantford is growing rapidly and would benefit tremendously from an upgraded, premier, multi-use event venue to serve existing residents and attract new ones,» said a report from city staff. «International recognition and promotion of the community, through increased media visibility locally, nationally and internationally will also go a long way in enhancing civic pride within the community.»

Andlauer, president and CEO of Andlauer Healthcare Group Inc., which owns and transport and logistics companies in Canada, and who is a part-owner of the Montreal Canadiens, said the move to the civic centre isn't about a return on investment for the Bulldogs.

«It's not about making money on this thing,» he said. «It's about doing what's right.»

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Although this move isn't permanent, it's a test for the people of Brantford Ontario. They've been asking for a OHL franchise for awhile and now they get a shot to prove they can handle it by supporting the Bulldogs. This may determine if the Canadian Hockey League feels a team in Brantford would do well or not.

Credit:CHCH News
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