Senators honour legacy of the Belleville Bulls
A storied part of hockey history in the Bay of Quinte was on full display Saturday night as the Senators organization honoured the Belleville Bulls in front of an energetic crowd at CAA Arena.
Local fans were particularly enthusiastic about the commemorative jerseys the club wore in a tribute to the franchise that brought high-level major junior hockey to the city from 1981-2015. It was also a special occasion as a significant number of alumni were on hand to reconnect with the community, while several others sent heartfelt video messages for the event.
“The alumni that were here loved it. There’s a lot that couldn’t come and wanted to be here,” said Corporate Partner Bruce Mackay, who was critical in helping to coordinate the evening. “When we started talking about it last summer and to now have it come to fruition, it’s pretty special. We don’t have a franchise in the Ontario Hockey League anymore and the guys miss this. This was important for them to be here.”
Former captain and J. Ross Robertson champion Ryan Ready was happy to share his memories with fans and past teammates and spoke highly of his time in the Friendly City.
“It’s special. I know a lot of us have spent a lot of time here. For me, It was four years. It seems like a long time ago, but once you get back in the rink, it feels like yesterday. The people in Belleville are awesome. They’ve always been awesome, and it’s good to see some familiar faces in the crowd you have known over the years. I had great teammates, great coaches, and just great people around me back then. The Bulls were part of the community. There were lots of people cheering for you. The whole city was part of it.
Ready is pleased that high-level hockey has returned to Belleville following the departure of the Bulls.
“I don’t think they could have done a better job, especially with the facilities the players have,” he said. “It’s top-notch and I think they have done a fantastic job. There is a rich history of hockey here. So it’s really good that there’s a product here that the Belleville community can come and watch and enjoy some entertainment. There are great players here. It’s great hockey. They’re very fortunate to watch AHL. It’s the second-best league in the world.”
While fans are now fortunate to enjoy the AHL experience, many also remember the impactful memories of OHL hockey and athletes who were able to contribute to both leagues.
Belleville Senators Interim Head Coach David Bell recollected facing the franchise as a defenceman during his tenure with the Ottawa 67s from 1994 to 1998. In his estimation, the event was a proper tribute to a one-time rival he remembers fondly.
“It was awesome, and hopefully, it will continue to grow. The alumni that were here were outstanding. I think if we can get some more fans on board that it is great hockey, and it’s a good product that we put on the ice. I think we can fill this building.”
The night’s success has led to some planning to potentially hold a similar event in upcoming seasons, or if nothing else, remind the Bay of Quinte Community that while the OHL Bulls might be gone, the AHL Senators are more than filling that void.