The Ontario Hockey League officially returned to Hamilton in 2015 when the Bulldogs took the place of the relocated Belleville Bulls. That was then, this is now.
The return of the OHL to Hamilton was punctuated with an exclamation mark in Game 3 of the championship series on Monday when 7,349 fans clicked the turnstiles at FirstOntario Centre to watch the Bulldogs upend the Soo Greyhounds in a 6-5 thriller.
The crowd of 7,349 is the second largest to take in an OHL playoff game this spring, trailing only the 7,954 that the London Knights drew in a first round match against the Owen Sound Attack.
With a two games to one lead over the Greyhounds in the best-of-seven OHL championship series, the Bulldogs also have home ice for Game 4 on Wednesday night.
To be sure, hockey hysteria, OHL style, has taken over Hamilton like never before.
Since Belleville relocated to Hamilton in 2015, Bulldogs president and general manager Steve Staios has used his tireless Macedonian work ethic to create an identity for the OHL in his hometown.
A former first round pick to the OHL by the erstwhile Niagara Falls Thunder who went on to play in more than 1,000 games in the National Hockey League as a journeyman defenseman, the 44-year old Staios has shown administrative skill as the Bulldogs president and a shrewd hockey mind as the general manager.
As the OHL has not felt in Hamilton before, the Bulldogs have become the talk of the town.
Though Hamilton has a history of OHL success on the ice — the Red Wings won the Memorial Cup in 1962 and the Fincups reprised the feat in 1976 — teams over the years have not come close to enjoying the fan and corporate support that the Bulldogs have.
Plagued by poor attendance, OHL teams and monikers have come and gone from Hamilton over the years.
There were the Hamilton Tiger Cubs from 1953-1960 followed by the Hamilton Red Wings from 1960-1974 and the Hamilton Fincups from 1974-1978. (The Fincups even left Hamilton for St. Catharines for one season only to return and then leave for good.)
Six years after the Fincups closed up shop, the Hamilton Steelhawks took to the ice in 1984 only to depart in 1988. Then came the Hamilton Dukes in 1989 and a quick exit in 1991.
The OHL vacated Hamilton after the Dukes relocated to Guelph and became the Storm in 1991. And the OHL went dormant in Hamilton until 2015 when owner Michael Andlauer purchased the Belleville franchise.
Win or lose the championship to the Soo, the OHL has made a triumphant return to Hamilton, on and off the ice.
Ron Roscoe, who was a hard-nosed defenseman on the Hamilton Fincups OHL and Memorial Cup championship team of 1976, told Hockey News North that the Bulldogs have become a major topic of conversation around town.
The 62-year old Roscoe, who was born and raised in Hamilton and who still lives and works there in the labour relations field, has been to a number of Bulldogs games since the OHL returned in 2015.
Roscoe is enjoying the OHL in Hamilton to the extent that he planned a reunion of his former Fincups teammates from 1974 to 1976 to attend a Bulldogs playoff game.