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Hamilton residents refuse to give up NHL dream despite U.S. court decision

HAMILTON, Ont. - People in the never-say-die city of Hamilton were refusing to give up the dream of an NHL team Wednesday, despite the notable setback of BlackBerry boss Jim Balsillie's bid being rejected in U.S. bankruptcy court.

Hockey fans in the southwestern Ontario city had placed high hopes in the Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) co-founder billionaire's attempts to bring the Phoenix Coyotes to their community.

Phoenix bankruptcy Judge Redfield T. Baum rejected Balsillie's US$242.5 million offer "with prejudice." Baum also rejected the NHL's bid, but was far warmer to the league proposal, suggesting it could be amended to make it palatable to the court.

But Hamilton residents have seen several other setbacks in the ongoing Coyotes saga, and many don't believe the fight is over for a big league team.

While Mayor Fred Eisenberger called the court decision "very disappointing," he did see a bright side.

"The good news in it for Hamilton is that all have agreed that hockey in southern Ontario is viable and that it would be a successful market for them to start working with," Eisenberger said.

"We'll continue to work to see if we can get an NHL franchise here for Hamilton."

Most Hamilton residents have taken a "pragmatic view" of Balsillie's battle to bring the team to their town, he added.

"They understand it wasn't a slam dunk by any means for Mr. Balsillie."

The Coyotes are a hot topic at bars in the city such as Frisco's Eatery and Sports Bar, where waitress Dianne Miller said the latest decision was on everyone's lips.

"A lot of people still have hope, absolutely," she said.

"Every time you watch the news there's something else that's positive, in Jim Balsillie's favour. So it's always up and down but people are still very optimistic."

Ruth Liebersbach, the president of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, said she thinks there is still a chance the case will go to mediation.

"If it does there will be an opportunity for Mr. Balsillie to again work with the NHL," she said.

But if that's not the case Liebersbach lamented the loss of such a lucrative opportunity for business owners in the city, particularly in the area of Copps Coliseum.

"It certainly would have meant a lot of business for the downtown core of Hamilton," she said.

"It would certainly have brought a lot of awareness to the city and with awareness creates opportunities."

However, some residents of Hamilton have had their hopes raised then crushed one too many times and are all but throwing in the towel.

"(We have) no more hope," said Roseanne Farr, a waitress at Toby's Good Eats restaurant, close to Copps Coliseum.

"There's no turning back, I think, on this one."

Farr said businesses in the area wish the Coyotes could have come to Hamilton, because the area around the stadium could have used a revitalization that an NHL team surely would have meant.

"That would have helped us out, for all the businesses around here, to have that brought in."

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