TORONTO — The queries came from friends and family. But they also followed Patrice Bergeron wherever he went in his hometown of Quebec City this summer.
Are the Nordiques coming back?
“I’ll go to the grocery store and then I’ll be just walking through aisles and people will stop me and be like: ‘What do you think? Do you think it’s going to happen?”‘ Bergeron said Tuesday at the NHL’s player media tour. “I’m like ‘I don’t know, I hope so.’ I hope for Quebecers but I don’t know more than you do so I can’t really tell you.”
The possibility became much more real when the NHL’s board of governors opened a formal expansion process in June and only Quebec and Las Vegas submitted applications. Both of those bids are currently in the third and final stage of review by the league.
Naturally, hopes are sky-high among hockey fans in the Quebec capital.
“Once they announced the expansion (process) it kind of went nuts,” said Bergeron.
The interest is so strong that 170,000 people signed up for tours of the recently completed Videotron Centre. That arena was built beside the old Colisee and will host an exhibition game between the Canadiens and Penguins later this month.
“It’s huge,” said Bergeron. “It’s twice the size (of the Colisee) and it’s beautiful.”
For players like the Boston Bruins centre, who spent the summer working out with other Quebec-based NHLers, it raised the possibility of one day playing an NHL game at home.
That’s an enticing proposition.
Bergeron recalls attending Game 2 of a series between Quebec and Montreal during the 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs, and continued to cheer for the team — with mixed emotions — after it relocated to Denver two years later.
“I was always a Nordiques fan and I kind of followed Colorado after that because it was the same team, right?” he said. “I was not very happy with the ’96 [Stanley Cup] win. I was happy, but disappointed it was the same guys but they moved to Colorado.
“If we would have waited one more year we probably would have … “
He didn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t have to.
However, with the future seemingly so bright, there isn’t much reason to look back at the past right now in Quebec.
“I think it would be amazing [to have a team there],” said Bergeron. “I’m going to play for the Bruins against them, but just to be playing the Nordiques there’d be a special meaning to it. Just the fact that I am from there, it’s my hometown. I could play in front of my family.
“I grew up watching the Nordiques and playing against them would be special.”