Many NHL fans miss their teams. It’s been two months since the league suspended its season due to the Chinese coronavirus. Hockey lovers feel the void. Now, imagine being a fan of the Quebec Nordiques. The current stoppage of play is nothing to them. Fans in Quebec City haven’t seen their team skate in a quarter-century. If you ask former players, it is time for that to change.
The Nordiques left Quebec City following the 1994-95 season, moving to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche. Since that time, there have been many efforts to bring the NHL back to town. All have failed. Blame Gary Bettman, blame the Canadiens, blame the Canadian dollar, blame whomever you wish. The fact is Quebec City is still without NHL hockey and that’s simply not right.
Jimmy Mann played three seasons for the Nordiques in the mid-1980s. The Quebec native and former winger is holding out hope that a Nordiques comeback is still in the cards. “I think they will return under the right conditions,” Mann told Breitbart Sports. “Right now, they are in my opinion, not stable enough.”
Like so many things in sports and in life, money is playing a big part here. “They are not financially solid,” said Mann. “They are fighting about who is going to pay, looking for taxpayers for financial help, which isn’t going over good with the public. But, never say never. They need investors that will use their own money, like Winnipeg did. Great organization, but Quebec can be a great organization too, with the right people in place.”
Brent Severyn broke in with the Nordiques in 1989. The former defenseman agrees that money is a huge reason as to why Quebec City has been shut out so far. “It seems the NHL is more interested in expanding into the states than in Canada,” Severyn said. “I’m assuming the NHL can get more sponsorship money in the states than in Canada.”
Whatever the reasons, Severyn, who spent time with six NHL clubs, believes Quebec City deserves better. “I would like to see the team back in Quebec,” he said. “Such a great hockey town. Of all the teams I have played for, they have the most passionate fans. The Montreal-Nordique rivalry would be nice to see again.”
That rivalry with the Canadiens was like no other. From province bragging rights to beer company wars to on-ice brutality, this feud had it all. The Good Friday Massacre summed up this battle in a microcosm. The 1984 playoff game featured 11 ejections and 252 penalty minutes. Of the 119 Nordiques penalty minutes, 2 of those were served by Blake Wesley for holding. The former defenseman wants to see the Nords come back, despite several obstacles standing in the way.
“I think it would be great to see the Nordiques return to Quebec City,” Wesley said. “There are many factors that the league has to weigh before accepting a bid to have a team. The city needs an ownership group that has very deep financial resources. They would have to pay a steep expansion price for a new team. The city needs the business corporations and community to support the sustainability of a new franchise. Would people be able to afford to pay the steep ticket prices of today’s economy? It’s great that Quebec City has a new building. but they have to fill the seats to generate additional revenue. The economics of the game has changed immensely since the Nordiques left for Colorado. The new CBA has changed the game. How can Quebec City attract players? Taxation is very high on player salaries. Some guys weigh those things before they sign with teams. There is not as much loyalty because of free agency.”
Daunting. But not impossible. While teams in Arizona, Ottawa, and Florida struggle to bring in fans, Quebec City would welcome a new team with open arms.
“The fans in Quebec are the best,” Mann said. “They love their team and the game. Wow, do they ever. The rivalry between Quebec and Montreal was one of the greatest rivalries ever between two teams. It was really a way of life for a lot of people, it was fun.”
Severyn agrees. Nordiques fans are a spirited bunch. “Quebec City is special, as it was my first introduction into the NHL,” Severyn said. “The city was all in when it came to the Nordiques. When you play in cities in the US, the media attention and fans are not the same. Canada and Quebec are hockey crazy and I’m so blessed to have been able to play in that atmosphere. In the quarantine, I am scanning all family pictures, a big task. There are a bunch of old pictures I have from the Nordique days. It’s fun to go back to that time.”
Nordiques fans hope to go back to that time again.
If a franchise ever does call Quebec City home again, look for Blake Wesley to pay them a visit. “I had many great experiences as a Nordique,” Wesley told Breitbart Sports. “We had wonderful teams, great rivalries with Montreal and Boston. I was very proud to wear the jersey and represent the city and the fans. Quebec fans were awesome, and the city was amazing. I wish I had the opportunity to visit in the future. The fans were very kind, and if you tried to speak French, they smiled, honored that you tried to embrace the language and respect the heritage, traditions, and culture.”
Some point to the fact that Quebec City is still almost exclusively French-speaking, as another reason why Bettman and friends have shied away. It seems like something that most players would easily work through to play for a quality franchise. Nonetheless, it may be another factor.
For those who grew up in Quebec, playing for the hometown team was as good as it got. “Being a Nordique and playing in my province where I grew up was a dream,” Mann said. Big praise coming from a guy who grew up a fan of the Nords bitter enemy. “I really have to say that my first dream was to play for the Montreal Canadiens, said Mann. “I was brought up right near the Forum and they used to practice in Verdun at the auditorium where I grew up and lived and played. We used to skip school to go and see the Canadiens practice in our rink at the auditorium in Verdun, their practice rink. Naturally, everybody who played hockey in Verdun, wanted to play for Montreal. The Quebec Nordiques were not in existence then. But when they did come about, and when I was able to get the chance to play in Quebec, it was an honor.”
That speaks volumes about the passion in Quebec. A kid who grew up rooting for the team that has hoisted more Stanley Cups than any squad ever, was just as thrilled to play for the upstart Nordiques. Only a club with amazing fans could create such an atmosphere.
One of the greatest Canadiens finished his career as a Nordique, adding even more fuel and fun to the classic conflict. “I got to play alongside one of my idols, in Guy Lafleur,” Severyn recalled. “He assisted on a goal I had. Very special. It was an outstanding city to play in.”
Players loved wearing that Nordiques uniform for what it meant and also for the look itself. “I think that Nordiques jersey is one of the greatest jersey uniforms made in the NHL,” said former Quebec tough guy Richard Zemlak. “It’s all about pride.” The city would be proud to host a team again.
Many have called for a Quebec Nordiques return over the years. Fans throughout North America would love to see that scrappy team take the ice once more. Petitions have been circulated, websites have been created, and groups have been formed. Every time it appears there may be a breakthrough, the hopes of Quebec City are crushed again. Like the team they rooted for though, they never give up. Former players appreciate that passion and they encourage those who love the Nordiques to keep on fighting.
“They just have to be patient,” Mann said. “Things will take some time because first of all, Bettman is not relocating any team yet because that will be the way to go for Quebec. They can’t afford a new team, so have faith, because Quebec is a great hockey town and they have the greatest fans. They will get their team.”
Brent Severyn never walked away from a fight on the ice and he wouldn’t recommend retreating from this one either. “Fans and companies have just got to keep pushing and force the NHL to notice the support the city will have to get a team back,” Severyn said. “The NHL has their philosophy on expansion and the people in Quebec City have got to stay relevant in the face of the league.”
The team that used to play there made a positive impact on the community. Now, that community must stay positive. “Don’t lose hope, Quebec,” Zemlak said.
One thing’s for sure. No fanbase is more worthy of a franchise than the one in Quebec City.
“The fans in Quebec deserve it more than any other fans in the league,” Mann said. “They got screwed big time, the first time.”
They sure did.
Follow Kevin Scholla on Twitter @kevinscholla