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Open Mike: Good-looking Bulldogs three years in the making

Opposing coaches have been impressed with the Hamburg ice hockey team’s new jerseys.

During the first few games of the season, head coach John McFall said that his team has been complimented on their new threads, bought by parents who he said have made an investment in their children’s play.

While remarks about how the team looks are flattering and a testament to the squad’s support, McFall joked that he is more interested in how his team plays, out on the ice.

And, right now and for the visible future, it looks very good.

“Other coaches have said to me, ‘You guys look good,’” McFall noted. “It’s amazing, at this level, what new uniforms can do for a team.”

It is also amazing what winning will do for a team.

Hamburg finished 11 – 10 – 1 last season – with its most wins since six seasons ago, when the team first joined the Federation – and got all the way to the Western New York small school semifinals, a program-first. And this season’s team brought back so much of what made that team go in 2012 – 2013.

But it wasn’t always like that. The Bulldogs had a somewhat surprisingly good first season in the Federation in 2008 – 2009, with many of the players left over from a championship club team the year prior. They finished 13 – 7 – 2, even as the team stepped up in competition.

Hamburg went through some lean seasons during the next four years and has been building, most specifically during the past three, for what it hoped would, literally, be a banner 2013 – 2014 campaign.

After winning seven times and earning the program’s first playoff victory in year two of Federation play, the Bulldogs won only twice in 2010 – 11 and four times the next year. It took those lumps to help it become the team that showed such promise, last season.

With most of those key players back and an influx of talent coming in from a state championship-winning junior varsity club team, taking another step seems likely.

As he looks back, McFall remembers some of his top players these days – Brett Ross and Colin Coppola, both of whom have been playing with the varsity since their freshman season – saying then, ‘Just wait until we’re seniors.’

Eight players who are now seniors saw time playing as freshmen, four years ago. They kept the faith even through some very tough seasons, and now the two forwards – and many of the players around them – are seniors and ready to live up to what they proclaimed, years ago.

“They knew that if they kept at it and played well, this could be their year,” McFall said. “They were talking about it, back then. Well, now it’s here. They’ve developed and it’s not just them. They have the juniors and sophomores up to help them this year and they know they’re good players.”

This team boasts 11 seniors, all of whom McFall said are hungry to win. He anticipates they’ll be a group just as interested in playing as well as they look on the ice.

“Last season, we were close to the championship game; we’re poised for a big year,” he noted.
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