NHL players don’t often circle the date of a preseason game on their calendars. But when Patrice Bergeron saw that the Bruins would be playing the archrival Canadiens in Quebec City on Sunday, his eyes lit up and he immediately marked it in his memory and on his calendar.
Bergeron grew up in nearby Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec, and cheered for the now defunct Quebec Nordiques as a child. To say he is is excited to return home and play the Habs would be an understatement.
“It’s awesome,” Bergeron told NESN.com recently. “Right when I saw it, I was so excited. I grew up there and cheered for the Nordiques, so this will be a special time.”
Of course, his family and friends circled the date as well, and Bergeron’s phone began ringing off the hook when the game was announced. Since this hockey-crazed city lost its team in 1995, any time a pro team comes through to play at the Nordiques former home, Colisée Pepsi, the building sells out right away. According to Bergeron, the old barn that seats 15,127 will be packed to capacity this Sunday.
“They sold out in something like an hour and a half, and yeah, I had a lot of requests for tickets,” Bergeron said. “Everyone in the city is so excited for this game, and it’s great to be able to be a part of this. My family is so excited obviously to see me in person but also just to see pro hockey.”
The 2008 World Championships were held in Quebec City, and the attendance was the third-largest in the history of the tournament with every game selling out. Whenever NHL teams play exhibitions there, there are sellouts.
But since 1995, all these passionate fans have had to cheer for are the Quebec Citadelles, an AHL minor league team (1999-2002), and the Quebec Remparts (1999-present), a junior team in the QMJHL, run and coached by Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy.
Should the NHL decide to expand or move a team, Quebec would be at the top of the list to get a team back. Last Thursday, former Nordique and Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur told the Journal de Quebec that he believes a team will return.
“Given what's happening in the league at the moment, Quebec deserves to reclaim its place,” the always-blunt Lafleur said. “[NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman is sticking his thumb in his eye by continuing to ignore strong markets in Canada. I'm talking about Quebec, but you could say the same thing about Winnipeg or even Hamilton.”
Bergeron didn’t have any harsh words for Bettman or the league but agreed with Lafleur that a team can survive there.
“For a while, there was not enough financial backing from the city or from anyone there, but from what I hear, and I’m not too involved with this, it could work now,” Bergeron said. “The passion was always there, and the people were so sad to see it go when they moved to Colorado, but yeah, I know they would support another team, no question.”
The question Sunday will be whom do the fans support on the ice — the Canadiens or Bruins?
When the Nordiques existed, they had a rivalry with Montreal that many argue was even stronger than that of the Bruins-Habs. So do Nordiques fans still hold that resentment for their former provincial rivals?
“I don’t know about that because a lot of them became Habs fans after that,” Bergeron said. “I hope they kept that feeling. But I know one thing: There will be at least one section full of my family and friends cheering for the Bruins.”