You suddenly wanted to be a Quebec Nordique. With the wind whipping along St. Catherine's Street late last Saturday night and the snow falling in heavy swirls, you wanted to wrap the belt around your all-wool overcoat and step outside the Montreal Forum and walk through the Blizzard of '93 like a newly installed prince, if not a king. You wanted to walk through the snow and feel good, just happy to be a Nordique.
"How'd you do?" someone would ask.
"Won 5-2," you would reply.
How about that? Won 5-2. Beat the first-place Montreal Canadiens in their hallowed Forum. And now you wanted to say the words in French, to know the language. (What's the word for win? Gagner?) You wanted to be part of this surging rivalry. What could be better than beating the Canadiens in the Forum if you were a Quebec Nordique? Suddenly your team was four points out of first place in the Adams Division. Four points. The Canadiens had the most points in hockey. You were four points away.
"When we're working on all cylinders, we can beat anybody," Nordique right wing Owen Nolan said after Saturday night's triumph. "Our problem is that we don't work on all cylinders all the time. There are games we lose, we just come out flat from the beginning. Tonight, though, we had all cylinders. The third period, that's the best we can play."
How does that feel, to be working on all cylinders at last? For the past five years to be a Nordique was to be a disgrace. To wear the uniform with the little Pac-man Nordique logo on the front and the fleur-de-lis on the shoulders was to be a loser, often the biggest loser in the NHL. Five years without making the playoffs. How can that happen when just about every team in the league makes the playoffs?
But Saturday night in Montreal you wanted to be a Nordique so you could tell everyone about the difference this year. How much have the Nordiques changed? First of all, this is the youngest team in the NHL. What's more, they have nine new players. How often does a team start to win, just like that, with nine new players on a roster of 20? You wanted to talk about how these Nordiques have been different from the beginning of training camp, from the day in September when coach Pierre Pag� took the whole team away for five days to the little town of Clermont in the Charlevoix region of Quebec, mostly so that friendships could be made in isolation, away from the distractions of the city, where everyone would be heading in his own direction.
On Saturday night in Montreal you wanted to talk about the impact of the Eric Lindros business. Remember that comic opera of a year ago when the Nordiques owned the rights to that superstar of the future and that superstar of the future thumbed his nose at Quebec? Well, how does Lindros feel now, after being dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers in the off-season for six players and two future draft picks? What do the people of Quebec City think of that deal now? Lindros might be happy with the Flyers, but aren't the Nordiques 10 times happier on the other side of the trade?
Pag�, who is also the Quebec general manager, did a masterly job of dealing Lindros. He waited and waited, held his ground until the last possible moment. He juggled a bidding war as surely as if he were standing on an auction block. Ten different teams offered various alluring packages for Lindros. Pag� waited. The deal that was made with the Flyers filled out his roster in a hurry.
"We were looking for players who would not only help us to be good now but to be good five years and 10 years from now," Pag� says. "We wanted an experienced goalie. We wanted a quarterback for our power play. We wanted some young prospects. And we also wanted some leadership, some character for the locker room. You look now, and that was what we received."