Ottawa, ON – On Thursday afternoon, Quinte News first reported that the Belleville Bulls had been sold and are moving. The news was confirmed later in the day by the OHL which confirmed the team would be playing out of Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre starting in the 2015-16 season.
The Bulls had been a part of the OHL since 1981, and according to reports out of Belleville there was no attempt from owner Gord Simmonds to find a local buyer or any discussion with the city about a move.
In the OHL’s press release, commissioner David Branch welcomed Hamilton to the league, saying, “Hamilton has a long and storied history in junior hockey and we look forward to building on this tradition starting next season.”
Hamilton has been home to a number of OHL franchise in the past – the last been the Hamilton Dukes – but none of them flourished, with the Dukes only lasting two seasons before relocating to Guelph.
In the past few years Bulls owner Gord Simmonds had been very vocal about wanting either a new arena for his team or significant upgrades to the current Yardman Arena.
“From the Bulls’ point of view, we’ve made it clear that us playing in a more modern facility is a prerequisite to keeping the team in Belleville,” Simmonds told QNet News back in Feb. 2014. I guess it really depends at what point the city continuing to (defer) that as a priority … will match up with my partners and my willingness to stay in a marketplace where we don’t have an appropriate facility.”
It’s a sad day for junior hockey when a team like Belleville – a small market, cornerstone franchise – are no longer needed in today’s growing OHL.
Said Branch in his statement: “It is the OHL’s hope, as with other small cities in our league, that one day, with the right conditions, OHL hockey will return to Belleville.”