Hamilton's conspiracy theory

MICHELE MANDEL, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

The joke on the Makeitseven Facebook page goes like this: Why doesn't Hamilton have an NHL team?

Answer: Because then Toronto would want one.

Bitter? Sure. Low blow? Not so much.

Too often the bridesmaid, and never the bride, Hamilton's latest hopes of getting an NHL team in Steeltown have suffered yet another setback and many suspect Toronto is somehow to blame.

The largest creditor of the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes has had a change of heart and is no longer backing BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie's bid to buy the team and move it to the Hammer.

Instead, in the continuing soap opera, SOF Investments has shifted allies and is now supporting Chicago sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf's offer to keep the team in the desert where it doesn't belong.

And even though Reinsdorf's bid is $64.5 million less than Balsillie's, the NHL is backing the American all the way. Could it be that the league is skating to instructions from the Toronto sidelines to keep competition away?

Of course, insists Michelle Whalen Febers -- and that's why she's no longer a Leafs fan.

The 33-year-old Hamilton bar owner is sick and tired of what she believes is the Leafs' collusion with the NHL to keep a team out of her hometown. So the organizer of June's Bring the NHL to Hamilton rally is now considering the launch of a wide-scale campaign to boycott the league.

Because if Gary Bettman and his old boys' club continue in their ways, she fears no Canadian city will ever get another NHL franchise.

"It's 24 to six right now," she says of the number of American teams to those from the Great White North. "Now they're looking at Las Vegas as an option for a team and not Hamilton? Is that for real? It doesn't make any sense.

"These desert teams don't have the drive behind hockey that we do. Here we eat, sleep and breathe hockey. If Canadians don't stand up and say 'Enough' all together, we're just going to lose hockey forever."

Chris Hanlon is equally frustrated by the NHL's anti-Hamilton attitude and is proposing an alternative on the Makeitseven Facebook site started by Balsillie to support his bid.

"Start another professional hockey league and call it something like the Canadian National Hockey League," writes the St. Catharines manager of an Internet provider.

A hockey fan who can't afford Leafs tickets, Hanlon has been rooting for Balsillie in his uphill battle with the NHL to deliver a more affordable team to southern Ontario.

"It's been a roller-coaster," he says. "I'm hopeful but I don't see how he's going to get around the league."

Ron Foxcroft does. The well-respected Hamilton entrepreneur and professional basketball referee counts the co-CEO of Research in Motion as a good friend.

"This man is the most determined person I have ever met; he is a passionate sportsman and passionate about the game of hockey," Foxcroft says of Balsillie.

"I would not count him out."

Like Whalen Febers, he doesn't understand why the NHL continues to salivate at mirages of hockey success in the desert.

"Why would they want to continue in the Phoenix market where obviously hockey is not going to be commercially successful? It's like running a water-skiing championship at the CNE in the middle of February. There's not too much interest."

His friend's latest setback, he believes, is just a little rut in the ice for him -- and for his fellow hockey fans.

"Hamilton people are very resilient -- they've been taking knocks from the NHL for the last 20 years," he warns Bettman and the anti-Balsillie crew. "They're not going to give up. So it's not over 'til it's over."


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