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Marlies Face Bulldogs Outdoors In Steeltown

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

As usual, Marlies coach Dallas Eakins hit the sweet spot when asked about the Steeltown Showdown outdoor game that will pit the Marlies and Hamilton Bulldogs at Ivor Wynne Stadium on Saturday January 21. Game time, you should know, is 1 p.m.

“It reminds me a little bit of when a team from one end of the city challenges a team from the other end of the city to a game on a pond or a neighborhood rink,” he said.

The contest will be the fourth outdoor American Hockey League game played and the first AHL outdoor contest convened in Canada.

The Torontonians who will journey to Ivor Wynne Stadium, a facility opened in 1928 (three years before the debut of Maple Leaf Gardens)  will come to a city in transition. When concocting a logo for the event, politicians and sports officials debated whether to include three Hamilton smokestacks. Common sense won out.

“I love those smokestacks,” said Mayor Bob Bratina. “They represent $17 million in property taxes and 5,400 jobs.”

The city has much more to offer.

Full disclosure here. I live in Hamilton and love it wildly.  There are 125 waterfalls in Hamilton, more they say than in any other city in the world.  There are so many, the city has devoted a web page to them

Hamilton still produces better than half of Canada’s steel but the major employer is the city’s string of six hospitals. They have opened a dedicated children’s hospital and high tech innovation centres. Hamilton is home to a mushrooming arts scene, countless bourgeoning neighborhoods and spectacular vistas only a few minutes away from any doorway in town. It is an awesome, affordable place to live and a superb place to raise a family.

But if you haven’t already watched this video, I think you should.

Hamilton’s octogenarians hit other octogenarians with canes when they get uppity. If you think you can come to Hamilton and wave flowers under a Hamiltonian’s nose, don’t be surprised if she or he even he goes all Mosca on you.

And this is what makes an outdoor hockey games, convened in the shadows of the great smokestacks such great theatre.

The best sporting spectacles are cultural. The Anglo Leafs defeating the Francophone Canadiens under the spotlight of Canada’s Centennial. The robotic Soviets against the tenacious Canadians of the Summit Series.  The failed bid by the New York Yankees to win a World Series for the city after 9/11. The New Orleans Saints 2009 Super Bowl title, a victory to lift a city still picking up from Hurricane Katrina.

Hamilton is, to use a word bandied about in Toronto, authentic. While its unemployment level is comfortably under the national average, those smokestacks resonate not with the people left in Steel but to the sons and daughters whose fathers who worked there so they could put their kids through university.

Johnny ‘Pops’ Papalia, the last of the great organized crime kingpins, met his maker in a parking lot not far from those stacks. While the city is home to a celebrated arts summer festival, a 20,000 student university and a terrific art gallery, what Angelo Mosca reminded the world with one swing of his cane speaks to a city whose spine is still made of steel.

“It’s funny how a hockey team reflects its city,” Eakins said. “That’s very much true of the Bulldogs. They are a blue-collar, hard working team and they are very tough to play against.”

The Bulldogs, perennial contenders have stumbled to a 6-11-1-1 record. The Marlies stand at 12-5-3-1.

“Hamilton’s a different place,” the Mayor said “and if you haven’t found that out, you will January 21.”

He’s got that right.

The game will be broadcast nationally on Sportsnet.

Tickets range from $29.50 to $89.50. They are available at Copps Coliseum, Ivor Wynne, and any Ticketmaster Outlet. You can find them at or charge them by phone at 1-855-872-5000.

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