A bit of Quebec City hockey history passed away over the weekend, 79 year old Marius Fortier died after a short illness. Fortier was the Quebec City booster who envisioned a professional hockey team for the then regional centre and Quebec capital.
Fortiers vision became the Quebec Nordiques in 1972, a team which dominated the early days of the WHA and became bitter rivals of the Montreal Canadiens upon joining the NHL in 1979. The Nords came to symbolize the split of Quebec in the late seventies and early eighties, Montreal would cede many fans as the the Nords came to represent the little guy against the big machine. A situation that became ever so apparent as the Nords struggled to survive in the big era spending sprees of the NHL. His dream would become a sad memory in 1995 when the Nords could no longer make a go of it in Quebec City and relocated to Colorado becoming the Stanley Cup Champion Avalanche shortly after. If only a few more years could have been squeezed out of that amazing line up and the Nords would have been a Stanley Cup champion with a great parade down the Grande Alle.
Fortier was the proud papa of a team that put Quebec City on the map and gave much satisfaction to hundreds of thousands fans over the years. The Nords were Quebec City, your correspondent even spent his honeymoon in Quebec City during the 85 playoffs, the aura of the team and how it captured the spirit of the city was amazing to watch.
Everywhere you went people were wearing their white or blue Nords jerseys, every bar had Nordiques paraphanelia and hockey was the currency of the city. While my marriage probably is better for it, I still regret being unable to score a couple of tickets to the big game while staying in Quebec City. Despite my best effort's, the off ice officials from Chicago ignored my pleas for a couple of seats to the Nords /Flyers game that night. It seems that spare tickets to a Nords playoff game was just something that wouldn't or couldn't be found.
Prior to the Senators rejoining the NHL I was Nordique fan, I followed the team through it's WHA days and into its NHL adventure. The epic battles between Montreal and Quebec were an amazing thing to watch, made only more entertaining by the obvious love affair between Quebec City and its Nords. When they left for Colorado I left their fold of followers, anyone can root for a stacked team but to follow a team from it's early days to the summit now that's what being a fan is all about. It's a process I've been through with both of my current faves the Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks.
Fans in Quebec like those of Winnipeg, still remember those special moments as they went up against the big boys and gave it their best. And like Winnipeg, the folks in Quebec still hope one day for a return to the NHL, and frankly the NHL could do a lot worse than having a team in a hockey cradle such as Quebec City. A city that not only understands hockey but lives and breathes it. With the NHL now entering a more stable era of financial footing and seeking out markets that have a love for the game, a short list would have to include the metropolis near the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
As his health declined Fortier would look back on those days with his Nords and advise the hockey fans of Quebec City and their local government that without a new arena, the dream of the Nords would remain just a dream.
With his passing there's one less person left to carry on that dream, it also leaves Quebec City's sports community with a bit of a hole one very hard to replace. But it does leave the town with a hell of a torch to pick up on!