Tonight the Pens will play the Canadiens in the first-ever professional hockey game at the brand-new Videotron Centre – which opened Sept. 3 – in Quebec City.
It’s going to be a special night for everyone involved, but particularly so for Quebec natives Marc-Andre Fleury, Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang, David Perron, Jean-Sebastien Dea and Daniel Sprong (who moved to the province from the Netherlands at age 7).
“I can speak for all the French-Canadians: going back home during training camp, it’s fun,” Letang said. “To have a team in Quebec City at one point would be great. It gets us closer to our family and friends, so we’re excited.”
All of those players grew up in Montreal, which is about two hours from Quebec City. Many of them followed the Canadiens growing up, who had an intense rivalry with the Nordiques – which was an NHL franchise from 1979-95 before relocating to Colorado and being renamed the Avalanche.
“I remember the goalies a lot,” Fleury said. “Ron Hextall with the big polar bear helmet (laughs). I think the playoffs the one year, ‘93 I think, was just intense. Both teams were winning and people just love the game so much, and they’re not too far away. Only two hours away, and it’s just such a harsh competition between both teams, both cities.”
They all hope that Quebec City can land another NHL franchise at some point to reignite that passionate rivalry.
“It’d be great for the game,” Perron said. “I think there’s a lot of passionate fans from the rivalry that was going on between Montreal and Quebec. It was unbelievable.
“You remember some of the highlights, some of the fights, all that kind of stuff – even in the streets. So I’m sure if they have a team back, there would be some more conversations around Christmastime about who’s the better team. All the debate. People wouldn’t be talking about politics only, so it’d be good (laughs).”
Though he was young when the Nordiques left – around 6 or 7 years old – Perron still has fond memories of the team, and admitted to not hating the club as much as other people in his hometown might.
“I actually liked the Nordiques quite a bit,” he said. “Just their jersey always caught my eye. You’d see highlights on TV all the time. I remember Michel Bergeron, the coach, and some of their players obviously – (Joe) Sakic, (Mats) Sundin. Played with them a little bit in NHL 94. It’s good memories to remember and it’s going to be fun to play tonight.”
All six of the Pens’ Quebec natives skated in the old Colisee Pepsi at some point in their careers, whether it was growing up or against the Quebec Remparts during QMJHL play. But obviously, none of them have experienced the brand-new Videotron Centre – and they’re looking forward to having that chance tonight.
“I’m excited to just check it out, see what it’s like,” Fleury said. “I heard it’s a lot like our dressing room and stuff. It should be nice to see.”