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Hundreds show up at rally Add to ...

Hundreds of people rallied Friday in never-say-die Hamilton to support billionaire Jim Balsillie's efforts to bring an NHL franchise to the city.

Fans at the rally sported hockey jerseys and carried signs that read "Hockey Night in Hamilton" and "We deserve a team."

People in the enthusiastic crowd said they showed up to prove to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that a team in Hamilton has a groundswell of support and would be a lucrative franchise.

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"I'm a New Jersey fan myself, but, you know, I'm willing to switch if we get a team in Hamilton," said Cody Hastings, 15.

"I really want a team. I'll get season's tickets right away if we can."

His dad, Kirk Hastings, also said he's prepared to change hockey allegiances if his dream of a hometown team is realized.

"We want a team here, we've been waiting forever," he said.

"I'm a Leafs fan and I'm getting tired of the Leafs, so I'm going to need a Hamilton team."

Tony Trudgian, 66, said he believes tickets to an NHL team in Hamilton would be easier to come by than the hard-to-get seats to Maple Leaf games at the Air Canada Centre.

"You can't get tickets at the ACC anymore," he said.

"I can't afford them unless they're given to me and I think they'd be a little bit cheaper here. I think you'd get a lot of support from Buffalo and Toronto. It'll be a great rivalry."

With Toronto just one hour down the road and Buffalo also nearby, Trudgian said having a team in Hamilton would create a fun rivalry between the three cities.

"I really honestly believe it's going to happen," Trudgian said.

"Mr. Balsillie's a businessman and he knows what he's doing. He's the owner of RIM, come on now."

Jim Balsillie, the billionaire co-CEO of Research in Motion Ltd., couldn't attend the rally, but was still on the receiving end of the crowd's adulation.

They chanted "Thank you, Jim," "Go Jim," and cheered throughout a letter his spokesman Bill Walker read for Balsillie.

Just before the rally got underway, Walker spoke about the huge turnout.

"It's a message to the entire NHL that if you're looking for a great hockey market, Hamilton is it," he said.

"The NHL has three criteria for selecting a franchise: owner, arena and market. We think Jim Balsillie's a great owner, Copps Coliseum, which is right over here - once it's renovated - will be a great arena and obviously the fans are great."

The rally was part of his so-called "Make It Seven Day," which was organized by local hockey fan Michelle Febers to provide a voice to Canadian hockey fans and raise money for minor hockey teams across the country.

Balsillie's bid for the Phoenix Coyotes was rejected by an Arizona bankruptcy judge, but he's pledged to keep pushing for a team.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said the mayors of Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Kitchener have pledged their support to "make it seven."

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