Hamilton rallies behind Balsillie

BRIAN GRAY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 5:24 PM ET

HAMILTON -- Make It Seven and make it happen.

Hockey-crazed fans showed up in droves to a lunchtime rally in support of bringing an NHL team to Hamilton and a seventh to Canada -- and to make their message to league commissioner Gary Bettman loud and clear.

"We want an NHL team and we want it now," said Chris Machinski, a Hamilton resident who was born in Toronto. "This is a huge market and 99% of us are hockey fans. There's no question this is the place to put a successful NHL team."

Billionaire businessman Jim Balsillie's efforts to move the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton were thwarted earlier this week by an Arizona judge but Bettman is clearly seen as the villain in this latest in a series of attempts to put another team in southern Ontario.

"C'mon Gary, what are you scared of?" asked Dale MacDonald. "This is largest market without an NHL team and with all these people here today this team is already a proven success."

The rally itself featured pep talks by a number of people ranging from Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger to actor and comedian Steve Smith and Balsillie spokesman Bill Walker.

"Never underestimate the impact you, the fans, can have on this outcome," Walker said reading a message from the absent Balsillie, who has vowed to continue to push to acquire the Coyotes. "You have proven how strong the Hamilton hockey market is, your influence as fans will continue to be felt."

Eisenberger said he was overwhelmed by the fan response and hopes the NHL honchos in New York and around the league were getting the message.

"Spectacular, wonderful day," Eisenberger said as the 90-minute event wrapped up. "I think this is a clear indication that hockey is wanted and viable in Hamilton. This will translate well for Mr. Balsillie and great encouragement for him and also a great encouragement and message to the NHL that this is spectacular hockey market without a team, time to get down to having some discussions about how to make that happen."

Balsillie's Makeitseven.ca has encouraged fans to continue to put pressure on the league and has spurred a letter writing campaign to Bettman to continue to get the message across.

And Balsillie's team would like to meet with the NHL through the summer in an effort to get something worked out, Walker said.

The rally was organized in only a few days and while a few people said they would have liked to see more fans show up, it was still far better than the 200 Coyotes fans who attended a rally in Phoenix earlier this month. "I didn't put an expectation (on the crowd number) but if I did this would have exceeded it," co-organizer Michelle Febers said. "It's amazing, it's phenomenal, it's the spirit of Hamilton."

BRIAN.GRAY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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