Thursday, July 26, 2012
July by the Numbers returns to Canada for jersey #26.
The story of the Hamilton Bulldogs is an odd timeline of franchise movement, yet stability at the same time.
Their story begins in 1969-70 with the formation of the Montreal Voyageurs of the American Hockey League as the top minor league affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. After two brief seasons the franchise was relocated for the first time, when they became the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, where they enjoyed a long run, lasting from 1971 through 1984.
Future Canadiens star Ken Dryden with the Voyageurs in 1970-71
When the Nova Scotia Voyaguers moved for the second time, becoming the Sherbrooke Canadiens for the 1984-85 season, the Edmonton Oilers arrived on the scene to immediately fill the void left by the departing Voyageurs, naming their new club the Nova Scotia Oilers.
The 1985-86 Nova Scotia Oilers
The Oilers relocated to Cape Breton after four seasons, retaining the Oilers name and remained there through the 1995-96 season.
Meanwhile, the Sherbrooke Canadiens existed for five seasons before moving for the fourth time, this time to Fredericton for the 1990-91 season.
#30 Patrick Roy of the Sherbrooke Canadiens led
the team to the AHL championship in 1984-85
The Oilers once more relocated their AHL franchise, the former Cape Breton Oilers, moving them to Hamilton, Ontario at the west end of Lake Ontario. They had now finally become the Hamilton Bulldogs, and were set to begin play with the 1996-97 season while wearing blue and copper jerseys of the parent Edmonton club, only with the Bulldog logo. While their first regular season was a forgettable 28-39-9-4 campaign, which saw them finish 15 out of 18 teams, it was enough to qualify for the AHL playoffs, as a whopping 16 of the 18 teams made the postseason.
They drew the Saint John Flames in the first round, who they defeated in five games to advance to play the St. John's Maple Leafs, winning the series with a 3-0 shutout on the road in Game 7. Now on a roll, they then drew the Albany River Rats and proceeded to win Games 1 and 2 on the road to eventually win the series in five games to find themselves in the Calder Cup Finals despite the dismal regular season record! They eventually fell in five games to the Hershey Bears, who had finished 32 points higher than them in the standings. Despite coming up short, their unexpected playoff run was a great way to kickstart the new franchise for the fans in Hamilton.
A Bulldogs jersey from the 1996-97 to 2002-03 "Oilers" era
The next two seasons saw the Bulldogs finish with winning records and make it to the second round of the playoffs. At the same time, the Canadiens franchise in Fredericton was on the move yet again, with their fourth relocating sending them to Quebec City where they became the Quebec Citadelles for the 1999-00 season.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, continued on, making the playoffs again in 2000, suffering a down year in 2000-01 when they missed the postseason for the first time since their arrival in Hamilton, but rebounded with a 37-30-10-3 record followed by a strong playoff push, which saw them face off against the Citadelles, whom they swept in three games, including the first two on the road. They then ousted the Hartford Wolf Pack in five before losing to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the Semifinals in a series which went to the full seven games.
Perhaps by now you were wondering why all the documentation of the Canadiens AHL franchise history when the Bulldogs had by now six seasons under their belts. The answer lies in a most unusual arrangement, where the Canadiens pulled the plug on the Citadelles in Quebec, and merged their franchise with the Bulldogs operation in Hamilton, now sharing the affiliation with the Edmonton Oilers.
The combined roster proved to be a powerful one in 2002-03, loaded with many recognizable future NHLers, such as leading scorer Jason Ward, Michael Ryder, Jarret Stoll, Tomas Plekanec, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Marcel Hossa, Fernando Pisani, Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, as well as veterans Mariusz Czerkawski and Donald Audette while the goaltending was a trio comprised of Mathieu Garon, Eric Fichaud and Ty Conklin. The stacked lineup dominated the AHL, finishing first overall with 110 points and made it all the way to the finals before losing in a seven game final to the Houston Aeros.
The complicated tale of the Bulldogs actually got less complicated in 2003-04, as the Oilers created a new franchise, the ill-fated one season only Toronto Roadrunners, leaving the Bulldogs to the Canadiens from 2003-04 onward, which naturally led to new jerseys to reflect the Canadiens affiliation.
A Montreal inspired Bulldogs jersey
After two winning seasons, the Bulldogs went on a roller coaster ride unlikely to have ever been duplicated, as they missed out on the playoffs in 2005-06 following a moderate 35-41 season. In 2006-07, they rebounded with a 43-28-3-6 mark, easily qualifying for the postseason.
There, they defeated the Rochester Americans and Manitoba Moose in six and the Chicago Wolves in five to reach the finals, where they defeated the Hershey Bears in five games to win the Calder Cup for the first time in style following three consecutive wins in front of their home fans one season after missing the playoffs.
The 2007 Calder Cup champion Hamilton Bulldogs
Unfortunately, the roller coaster wasn't through with the Bulldogs, as the now 29 team AHL was highly competitive in 2007-08, and despite the Bulldogs winning record of 36-34-3-7, it was not enough to qualify as one of the still 16 playoff teams, which saw the current champions out of the running to defend their title.
Of late, the Bulldogs have been very competitive, winning 52 games in 2009-10 on their way to a franchise record 115 points and an appearance in the Calder Cup Semifinals. They also returned to the Semifinals in 2010-11 for back to back deep playoff runs before missing the postseason in the most recent season, their 16th in Hamilton following a long history of franchise shifting and relocation.
Today's featured jersey is a 2006-07 Hamilton Bulldogs Maxim Lapierre jersey. Following the departure of the Oilers from Hamilton in 2003, the club entered a golden age of highly attractive jerseys based on the timeless Canadiens jersey template, which was put to great effect in both the traditional Canadiens red, as well as blue, such as in the case of today's featured jersey.
The Canadiens derived sweaters lasted just four years through the 2006-07 season, after which the time of those gorgeous Bulldogs jerseys sadly came to an end with the arrival of the Reebok Edge jerseys and their vertical piping in 2007-08.
The Bulldogs jerseys, the red ones in particular, were a real treat, as at first glance the casual viewer would naturally assume it was simply a Montreal Canadiens jersey (particularly when they used an identical number font), but closer inspection and attention to detail would reveal the bold Bulldogs logo on the chest, rewarding the attentive viewer.
Today's featured video is the Bulldogs finest moment, winning their 2007 Calder Cup championship.