‘This is the time’ to bring Nordiques back to Quebec, says team icon Michel Goulet

All these years later, two full decades removed from its departure and in spite of his unabashed love for a city and understanding the depth of what was lost, Michel Goulet concedes the necessity of change.

New franchise.

Fresh start.

Generational shift in the fan base.

But the name, Nordiques. And that jersey, the one sporting the powder blue, red and white colour scheme. The iconic-igloo-holding-a-stick logo. Those six fleurs-de-lis — three front, three back — ringing the hem of a signature Peter Stastny No. 26, a Dale Hunter 32, a Joe Sakic 19, a Marc Tardif. 8.

Or, naturally, a Michel Goulet 16.

Timeless. Classic.

“Yeah, pretty special. Pretty sweet,’’ admits Goulet from his home in Denver. “I love that jersey. I thought it really connected well to the people in Quebec.

“Obviously, though, you’re going to have to go with what the fans want, what the new owners want.

“Do they want to start fresh or do they want to continue with the history, with the tradition? If you ask me, there’s nothing wrong to keep going with what had been there before.

“But when you pay that much for a team” — the projected price of an expansion team has been set at a minimum $500 million — “I think you’re probably allowed some say on things like that.’’

Monday, Montreal-based media giant Quebecor Inc. filed one of only two official bids to the National Hockey League to acquire an expansion franchise — the other from Las Vegas group Black Knight Sports and Entertainment — narrowing the field and increasing the odds. Both Seattle and a second Toronto-area bids surprisingly failed to materialize.

For those too impossibly young to remember, Michel Goulet, now a Calgary Flames scout, spent 10 seasons in Nordiques livery, amassing 945 points (1.16 per game), second only to Stastny.

He is an icon there.

Denis Brodeur/NHLI/via Getty Images
Denis Brodeur/NHLI/via Getty Images“It is special. It always will be special, for me. Because of the history, the Jean Beliveaus, the Guy Lafleurs (pictured), all those people."

“I left in 1990 to go to Chicago, to the Hawks, so I’ve been gone for 25 years now,’’ muses Goulet. “You don’t give it much thought then one day, all of a sudden, you turn around and it’s like ‘Wow! Twenty-five years! That’s amazing!’

“I just got back from Quebec, I was there for a Nordiques alumni event, and the people there still miss the team, miss the game at the NHL level. They’re such passionate fans. Obviously, they’re more than ready to get a new franchise.’’

At the heart of the Quebec City proposal, the well-on-its-way 18,259-seat Centre Videotron.

The $400 million state-of-the-art facility will be equipped with what le Colisee lacked when the Nordique franchise shifted to Denver in 1995 to become the Colorado Avalanche. Luxury boxes. Eye-popping Jumbotron video feed. The works.

Missing, of course, will be the historical tapestry and quirkiness that made watching an NHL game at le Colisee a truly memorable evening.

“It was special,’’ acknowledges Goulet. “It is special. It always will be special, for me. Because of the history, the Jean Beliveaus, the Guy Lafleurs, all those people. Those amazing players. It’s hard to see maybe a building like that go down, which will probably happen. But at the end of the day, is anybody missing the old Chicago Blackhawks’ Stadium? Ah, not really. Maybe a few of us old guys …

“You look at the new fan base, the new generation. You see what these beautiful new buildings have to offer. The choices they give you. It’s totally different today.

“The Colisee was some kind of a small … trap. It was little. Fast. The fans were right on top of you. And you knew them all. Business people, car salesman, whatever. You’d say: ‘Oh, Norman’s over there’ or ‘Mr. So and So’s behind the bench.’ They were there game after game. Sports today is totally different. People go to three, four games, maybe five, 10.

“It was just a different time.

“I loved it. But that was 30 years ago.’’

During his years in that most European of North American centres, the Nordiques reached two Stanley Cup semifinals. And no one of the era will ever, can ever, forget that visceral, bone-on-bone rivalry with the regal Montreal Canadiens, most particularly a night that has come to be known as the Good Friday Massacre at the old Montreal Forum. Second round of the ’84 Stanley Cup playoffs. A bench-clearing brawl, which triggered 252 penalty minutes and 10 player ejections.

“The rivalry against Montreal,’’ sighs Goulet, “was awesome. Mostly. Some really great hockey. Just that one crazy Good Friday, it got totally out of whack. Totally stupid, in my mind. Out of control. The referees. The players. Everybody. I’m like ‘What’s going on? We’re in a hockey game here, aren’t we?’

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMembers of 'Nordiques Nation' cheer during the NHL game between the New York Islanders and the Atlanta Thrashers on December 11, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Over 1,100 fans from Quebec attended the game to show their support for an NHL team.

“But I loved my years in Quebec. What made it special: We were a little place, competing against, and beating, the big cities. Fun, that kind of mentality.”

After two decades away, 20 years of pining, the first major key to bringing NHL hockey back to Quebec was struck Monday.

The culture, the fan base, is already there. The all-the-whistles-and-bells building is rising higher every day. That deep inbred loyalty required to see franchises through difficult times beyond dispute.

All is in place.

“No question in my mind, this is the time,’’ says Goulet. “I thought maybe it could’ve happened a little earlier, but those people know at lot more than us.

“We have two serious bids this time and I’m sure Gary Bettman’s going to do the right thing.

“Everybody got excited five, six years ago, too, there were rallies, all kinds of talk. The problem was that nobody was quite ready. No building for starters. If you want a franchise you have to show how serious you are. The new group, they look like they did it the right way.

“Now, I can see it there in two to three years. It’s going to be really exciting and challenging at the same time.

“I know a lot of people have been waiting a long time for this to happen.’’

A powder blue, white and red-clad icon of yesterday among them.

Calgary Herald

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques