Norse Tales (Part 1) | NHL – Ice Hockey
After discussing the last season of the Quebec Nordiques, from dream to nightmare, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of their move to Denver, let’s come back to the milestones, the great moments, known or unknown, of the « fleurdelisée » team. . Here is the first part.
Did you know ? An ancestral Quebec team, winner of the Stanley Cup? Long before the Nordiques who emerged in the 70s, Quebec had its flagship team at the end of the 19th century. The Club Hockey de Québec, which later became the Club Athlétique de Québec, was created in 1880. The team won the Stanley Cup twice, at the time awarded by the National Hockey Association, the ancestor of the NHL. The “Bulldogs” of Quebec then evolve in this new league born from the dissolution of the NHA, the NHL, in 1919… for their one and only season, since the team will then move to Hamilton.
1972 The adventure of those who were to become the Nordics should have started… in San Francisco. Investors were no longer able to fund the team on the west coast to compete in the World Hockey Association. The place was therefore vacant and the franchise rights were transferred to six Quebecers: Marius Fortier, Jean-Marc Bruneau, John Dacres, Marcel Bédard, Jean-Claude Mathieu and Léo-Paul Beausoleil, who got their hands on the door- money to install the team in the « Belle Province ». The team will then display a logo with a very strong Quebec identity: blue-white-red for the French heritage, the igloo in reference to the Canadian north and the fleur-de-lys, symbol of the province of Quebec. French America therefore had an alternative to the Montreal Canadiens at the highest level, in a league competing with the NHL, which had stars like Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky on its circuit.
Did you know ? The first coach in the history of the Quebec Nordiques is a legend, a former star player with a coaching career, however ephemeral. Everyone thought it was a joke when the Nordiques named Maurice Richard, the Montreal icon, to lead the new team in the “Vieille Capitale”. But the « Rocket », who ended his career as a player twelve years ago, will remain in this position for … two games, struggling to understand these new functions and the immense pressure from Quebec. This will be the one and only coaching experience for Richard. Maurice Filion succeeded him as coach for the 1972-1973 season, before becoming an outstanding General Manager in the history of the Nordiques.
1972 On October 11, 1972, the Quebec Nordiques played the first game in their history, losing to Cleveland 2-0.
1977 On January 8, 1977, the best team in the world passed through Quebec. The formation of the USSR of Boris Mikhailov and Valeri Kharlamov is indeed on tour in North America and stops in the Quebec city to face the Fleurdelisés. And surprise, the Nordics inflict a real lesson on the Soviets: 6-1! Vladislav Tretiak will even be chased out of the game during the third period in a boiling Colosseum. Curt Brackenbury, author of a double, will be the man of the match.
1977 That year, nothing stopped the Nordiques. Neither the Soviets nor the other teams in the championship. Quebec wins the Avco Cup, awarded to the best team in the WHA. The final against the Winnipeg Jets is close since seven innings are necessary. Quebec will manage to recover from a 3-12 (!) rout to win the last decisive game… 8-2, thanks to an excellent Richard Brodeur in front of goal. 65 years after the Stanley Cup of 1912, Quebec wins a new trophy. 11,461 spectators (for a capacity of 10,000 in the Colosseum), tens of thousands of people present during the parade of players with the cup, including schoolchildren on leave, it is a passionate city which shelters and which has definitively adopted the Nordics.
Did you know ? Among the great architects of the coronation of 1977, we mentioned Richard Brodeur but also mention Réal Cloutier, Marc Tardif, Jean-Claude Tremblay, Serge Bernier. As well as the Bordeleau brothers, including a certain Paulin. After a stint in the NHL in Vancouver, Paulin Bordeleau joined the WHA and Quebec in 1976, scoring 83 points in 80 regular season games, then 21 points including 12 goals in 16 playoff games. He will remain three seasons in Quebec before crossing the Atlantic for Tours, and a new love affair with France. After acquiring dual French-Canadian nationality, Paulin Bordeleau will wear the uniform of the France team during the 1986 and 1987 Worlds, as well as the Calgary Olympics in 1988. His son Sébastien will also play in the NHL and will also wear the French colors during his career. As for the grandson Thomas Bordeleau, at 18, he is a top prospect for the next NHL draft and he has chosen to wear the American colors in U17, a native of Houston.
1979 The WHA was at the end of its tether, and its disappearance was a boon for the NHL, which then had the possibility of recovering certain markets: Edmonton, Winnipeg, Hartford and Quebec were part of the 1979 expansion plan. The leaders of the Nordiques exulted because they had been looking for a few years to integrate the NHL, with the dream of establishing a deep rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens.
Did you know ? The integration of Quebec in the NHL became synonymous with rivalry… of the brewers. The Molson Brewery bought the Montreal Canadiens a year earlier while the Nordiques were owned by O’Keefe. A deep opposition begins… even in the glasses! But this one will take the lead in the wing… when Molson and O’Keefe will merge ten years later.
1979 On October 10, 1979, the Quebec Nordiques played the first game in their NHL history, which they lost 5-3 to the Atlanta Flames, in a crowded Coliseum with 12,000 people. The show was still there because, after being down 4-0 after two periods, the Nordiques reacted in the third period with a hat-trick from Réal Cloutier. A good impression with the perfume of victory noted in the newspapers.
1979 Three days later, the fleur-de-lis team is playing its second game… at the Montreal Forum. The Canadian is a four-time defending champion and some of his players are even predicting a beating. Nothing will happen. Montreal will win in pain 3-1, and the Nordiques will have their revenge two weeks later by a score of 5-4 on the ice of the Coliseum. The start of a deep rivalry that Nordiques star Alain Côté summed up in Radio-Canada : “ We had a lot of francophones, Montreal had a lot too. Two beer companies as owners, plus other settings. But it was a great experience. Especially playing the Forum, I loved it. »
1980 It’s a story worthy of the greatest spy movies. Two young Czechoslovaks, from a country muzzled by communism, take advantage of a tournament in Austria to flee to North America and play in the great NHL. Slovan Bratislava played in Innsbruck in August 1980 in the final phase of the European Cup. Owner Marcel Aubut and development manager Gilles Léger had planned the deal, traveling to Austria to pick up the two boys. The contracts are signed on the sly, the players then flee their hotel watched by KGB agents to spin towards Vienna in order to take refuge in the Canadian embassy, helped by the local police. Four days will be necessary for Aubut and Léger to make the trip and bring the two young talents back to a climate of high tension specific to the worst hours of the Cold War.
These two boys are the brothers Anton and Peter Štastný, future stars in Quebec. The eldest Marian will join them a year later. Peter Štastný, the most gifted of the three, will be captain of the Nordiques for five seasons, and some do not hesitate to designate him as the greatest player in the history of the fleur-de-lys formation.
Did you know ? Gilles Léger was already at the origin of an exfiltration, that of Václav Nedomanský, also Czechoslovakian, Olympic vice-champion at the Grenoble Olympics in 1968, world champion in 1972 and… idol of the Štastný brothers. Léger was with the Toronto Toros in the WHA in 1974 when he got his way by bringing in Nedomanský. The latter had requested permission from the Czechoslovak authorities to take a few vacations in Switzerland, a pretext to flee to a safe place in Zurich before reaching Canada.
To be continued…