QUEBEC CITY—It’s been awhile since Colorado Avalanche executive vice president and general manager Joe Sakic was at the Colisée Pepsi in Quebec City with an NHL team. In fact, the 45-year-old former NHLer has been back just once since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Denver and became the Avalanche, for an exhibition game in 2002.
Sakic played seven of his 20 professional hockey seasons in the Canadian province, so his return is something that unfailingly gets fans in town excited.
“It’s always special. This is where I started my career, and I had a lot of great memories. It’s fun to be back in the building,” said Sakic following Colorado’s morning skate on the arena's old sheet of ice. “It’s always good to come back here.”
Colorado is set to play the Montreal Canadiens tonight in the second of back-to-back preseason games for the club. The Avalanche was the away team—naturally—for the match in Montreal last night, but the club gets to be the home team in the city that used to be called home.
The game carries additional, special significance with it as well, because the old Colisée might not be much longer in this world. A new, state-of-the-art, modern arena is being erected across the street from the 65-year-old facility, and it is expected to be open in September of next year.
It dwarfs its predecessor in every way and will certainly draw a crowd.
“I don’t know how long the building’s going to stay. The new building looks beautiful. I’m excited to go see that when it’s ready,” said Sakic. “You can tell the size difference for sure. We know one thing here; it's going to be a beautiful, well-built building. They’re going to make it a special place to go if you’re a fan, for sure.”
For Sakic, great memories linger around every corner of the building. Each nook and cranny, the hallways and dressing rooms and offices, every one of them is filled with the history of the Colisée and the events that brought it to life.
What stands out for the former Nordiques captain among all of his playing days in the city was the support from locals.
“Really the best memory is the fans. The intensity,” Sakic said fondly. “The building is set up a perfect straight up where the fans are right on top of you. When it was a great game, exciting moment—the atmosphere, the noise, how they got behind the team—it was a special place to play.”
The legacy of the building isn’t lost on the players either. Some have been to it before while others are experiencing it for the first time. Regardless, many of the Avs are taken away by the arena's rustic appearance and the overall hockey feel that permeates throughout.
“You can tell, just from walking around and everything, that it’s kind of a historic building,” said Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden. “It’s kind of like on Long Island. You can feel (and) you can smell the hockey in here. It’s pretty cool.”
“It’s great. I remember when I was here at [14-years-old], last time at the peewee tournament. It’s awesome,” said Avs goalie Reto Berra. “It’s (a) hockey town for sure. We’re all really excited for tonight’s game here.”
The appeal of playing in such a unique building at the NHL level is something that doesn’t fade away with time.
“Last time I was here, like I said I was 14, but I still remember that. It was big,” Berra said. “You go out and play in front of 10,000 people.
“It’s going to be loud probably.”
For fans in Quebec City, this preseason contest could be the last NHL game in the old barn. That’s just another reason for the match having sold out almost immediately after tickets went on sale. There is a frenzy in town, and what better teams to fuel it than the Avalanche and the Canadiens.
“It’s going to be nice. Unfortunately, I have no control over what’s going to go on tonight. I’ll be up in the press box, but it’s going to be fun to watch the game, see the atmosphere,” said Sakic. “We know the game sold out right away. (There’s) such great fans here. The atmosphere is going to be like a regular-season game.”
“I think it’s cool that we were able to come up,” said Holden. “Obviously our franchise coming from Quebec, I think that’s kind of fitting for us to play the last kind of NHL game here before that new building gets finished and stuff like that.
“I think it will be very special for both teams, and obviously it’s great to be a part of.”
With a new rink comes a new dream of the NHL returning to Quebec City. Area fans are already among the most passionate in the sport, traveling in large numbers to various NHL games to catch a contest and prove to anyone that asks that they would support their own team once more. They just want to be given the chance.
That’s part of the reason for the new complex. They’re hoping for a team to return.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with that, but I can tell you one thing, you’ve got some of the best hockey fans around, here,” said Sakic when asked about the possibility of the city landing a team. “From my experience, I can’t tell you the economics here, but I can tell you that the fans here support hockey as well (as), if not more than, any other place in North America. It’s just an incredible place to be as a player.
“Players want to play in a building that’s alive and have great fan support. This is a beautiful city.”