Not any more

More than 50,000 demand return of Nordiques at Quebec rally

In Canada on October 3, 2010 at 13:25

More than 50,000 demand return of Nordiques at Quebec rally

A fan painted with the Nordiques colors cheers during the Blue March rally on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, October 2, 2010.

Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

A fan painted with the Nordiques colors cheers during the Blue March rally on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, October 2, 2010.

Marianne White, Postmedia News · Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010

QUEBEC — More than 50,000 Quebec Nordiques fans gathered on the Plains of Abraham on Saturday to clamour for the return of their beloved team and the construction of an NHL-sized hockey rink.

The massive event was the culmination of a public movement at bringing the National Hockey League back 15 years after the Nordiques were sold and became the Colorado Avalanche.

Wearing blue shirts to commemorate the former team’s jersey, hockey fans formed a sea of Nordiques’ blue that overwhelmed former players.

“It’s unbelievable to see such a crowd,” said Peter Stastny, one of the most popular Nordiques players who formed a feared trio in the 1980s with his brothers Anton and Marian. “This is an historic day.”

The three Slovakia-born players — who were reunited for the first time in decades — received the biggest cheers from the crowd, estimated at 70,000 by the rally organizers.

Peter Stastny said Quebec City is a paradise for hockey and stressed the league would be ill-advised not to bring an NHL team back.

“You deserve it,” the former number 26 told the roaring crowd. “Quebec City has what most cities don’t: extraordinary support from the fans, the excitement, the atmosphere,” he said.

Some 15 other former Nordiques players took part in the demonstration, dubbed the “Blue March,” and they all hammered the same message: the NHL must come back to the city.

“Some people say it’s going to happen within three to five years, but personally I think it’s going to happen faster than that,” said Hockey Hall of Famer Michel Goulet, who played 10 years for the Nordiques.

“Why not now?” added Mr. Goulet, noting that Pierre Karl Peladeau, chief executive of the Quebecor Inc. media company, is working actively to buy and relocate a team to Quebec City.

Former Nordiques coach Michel Bergeron said Saturday’s lovefest is going to send a powerful message to politicians and the league.

“The images that are going to be seen all across Canada, all across America are the living proof that the Nordiques are already back,” Mr. Bergeron, known as Le tigre, told the cheering crowd.

Mr. Peladeau, who attended the demonstration, said he is working intensively to lure back the NHL to Quebec City but recalled that commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear the first step is building a new state-of-the-art hockey rink to replace the outdated arena, the Colisee, which was built in 1949.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s government has already said it will pay 45% of the construction costs of the projected $400-million arena, while the city is ready to fork out $50-million.

A feasibility study for an 18,000-seat stadium showed it would be profitable, and both Charest and Quebec City’s mayor have since been lobbying the federal government to come up with the remaining $175-million needed to build such a venue.

They stressed the new facility will serve not only as home to an NHL franchise, but could also be the centrepiece of a possible bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The Conservatives have said they will not invest in a new arena in Quebec City until private investors put money into the project.

Mr. Peladeau stressed Quebecor is already going to make a significant investment by buying a hockey team but left the door open to throwing some cash in for the infrastructure.

“We are not closed to any creative proposal that could be put on the table,” he said.

The public financing of the proposed arena has unleashed a heated political debate and several politicians in attendance Saturday, including Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, Quebec Liberal minister Sam Hamad and Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, called on the Conservatives to stop wasting time.

“We can’t wait any longer,” Labeaume said. “If they are watching today, I think they’ll understand. Just look around (at the crowd). It speaks volume,” he added.

Nordiques fans came out in droves Saturday.

“I’ve never been able to watch a full hockey game ever since the Nordiques left, it’s too painful,” said Quebec City resident Gilles Boulanger.

He was holding a sign mocking the now-infamous Maclean’s magazine cover that branded Quebec as the “most corrupt province in Canada.” His sign had replaced that headline with “the most hockey province in Canada” with Bonhomme Carnaval sporting a Nordiques jersey.

For Nancy Tremblay and her son, Peter, it was an emotional day. They got to meet their idol Peter Stastny. Tremblay couldn’t hold back tears as she watched the Nordiques superstar sign her jersey. She has named her son after Stastny and has his number, 26, tattooed on her back.

“I grew up watching him play. It’s my dream come true to see him,” she said.

Support for the return of NHL hockey to Quebec City also seems to be high among players. An informal poll conducted this week by The Hockey News Magazine asked 90 players where the league should put a team via either relocation or expansion.

Quebec City came in first with 33 votes, followed by Winnipeg with 18, Las Vegas with 12, Hamilton with 11 and Seattle with five. Toronto received two votes, while Halifax, Saskatoon and the Kitchener-Waterloo region each garnered one vote.

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