Three weeks to the day after it was announced that Michael Andlauer had bought the Ontario Hockey League team and would move it to the Hammer, the Bulls played their final game on Thursday by losing 4-2 to the favoured Barrie Colts to complete a four-game sweep. The end was hard to take. One can abide that junior hockey finances might have dictated the sale and the move and still feel for fans who had a team taken away.
The last image of overage Adam Bignell leaving his No. 55 sweater at centre ice, in the manner of wrestlers who denote their retirement by leaving their shoes on the mat, will be burned into memory.
Teams come and go in major junior hockey. But following the league is about the creature comforts, the little touches that one links to each team, and not necessarily her/his favourite. Since the Bulls were from a smaller population centre by OHL standards, since they often punched above their weight, they were a popular soft-spot team.
There was an appreciation of what went into a team in a city of about 50,000, striving to compete with bigger centres such as Ottawa, London and Kitchener and how 20 or so billet families opened their hearts and homes to players each season.
Whatever the future holds for the Hamilton Bulldogs, there was a lot about the Bulls that can never be replaced for people.
The Subban legacy
There might be no hockey family in Canada with so much talent that is so linked with one major junior hockey franchise. For the past 10 seasons, from a 16-year-old P.K. Subban flashing early potential in 2005-06 through Vancouver Canucks prospect Jordan Subban's likely final OHL game on Thursday, at least one Subban wore the tricoloured Bulls uniform. (It's only a slight stretch, since Malcolm Subban appeared in one game in '09-10 as a 16-year-old call-up.)
The Olympic-size ice in Belleville was a space that the eldest Subban brother could truly explore as he honed the brashness and brilliance that's endeared him to untold hockey fans as a Norris Trophy winner with the Montreal Canadiens. During the 2008 OHL final, when the Bulls took Kitchener to seven games, P.K. probably skated a marathon every night.
Glorious gold jerseys
The Bulls will become the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2015-16 (Aaron Bell, OHL Images)