Eric Francoeur and Carl Eric, members of a Quebec-based group named Nordique Nation rally outside the Nassau Coliseum before the NHL hockey game between the Atlanta Thrashers and the New York Islanders to send a message to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that they want a team of their own on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010, in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. - The New York Islanders have no plans to relocate to Quebec, or anywhere else, at this point. But if the team decides to pack up, fans of the former Nordiques would gladly welcome them, or any other club, north of the border.
Bus loads carrying about 1,100 hockey enthusiasts—who call themselves Nordiques Nation—trekked to Long Island to see the Islanders host the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night. They want to prove to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that Quebec deserves a new team.
Their attendance didn't help the struggling Islanders, who lost 5-4.
The decision for Nordiques Nation to attend the game was calculated. The Thrashers and Islanders are 28th and 29th in NHL attendance. Only the Phoenix Coyotes are worse, with an average of 10,189 per game.
The Nordiques left to become the Colorado Avalanche before the 1995-96 season.
The travelling group split up and sat in seats behind both nets, cheering loudly throughout Saturday night's game. They boosted the attendance to 10,056.
"The positive sign with something like tonight is how many fans we have in the National Hockey League," Islanders general manager Garth Snow said before the game. "We welcome all fans of the NHL. We do have some great hockey fans on Long Island. It is a positive sign that there are NHL hockey fans across North America."
The only available arena in Quebec that could house an NHL franchise is Le Colisee Pepsi, which was the Nordiques' home when the team played in the WHA and NHL.
The NHL's reluctance to relocate teams hasn't stopped Quebec City and provincial leaders from forging ahead with plans to build a new arena.
Quebec City Major Regis Labeaume announced in October 2009 that he had employed SNC Lavalin, an engineering company, to create a study on the viability of building a state-of-the-art arena in Quebec City.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Labeaume met in September to discuss the study's findings. According to reports in November, $312.8 million of provincial and private funds have been allocated to the endeavour.
"Too many places in the NHL right now don't honour NHL hockey, said Vincent Cauchon, a sports-talk host at CHOI-FM in Quebec City. "It's been a passion in Quebec for so many years. We have the Montreal Canadiens. It's not enough. We need that rivalry back.
"It's the most beautiful thing that the NHL lost, the rivalry between the Habs and Nordiques. It has to come back. It will be better than any rivalry in the NHL."
Cauchon repeatedly said he isn't trying to steal the Islanders from Long Island. In the early 1980s, the Islanders were the class of the NHL, winning the Stanley Cup four straight years.
"We have so much respect for the New York Islanders," he said. "The banners up in the roof, everything they did for hockey. I would be sad if I learned that the Islanders were transferred to Quebec, just because the people here love their Islanders.
"They're on a good path. The New York market is great. It's not the case of every market. There are lots of failures in the NHL right now. It makes hockey look bad. In Quebec, it would look great."