A group of about 1,000 Québécois joined in an announced attendance of 10,056 at the Nassau Coliseum to pay tribute to their long lost hockey team and try to make enough noise to encourage the NHL to bring a team back to Quebec City. The city lost the Quebec Nordiques after the 1994-95 season when they moved to Denver. They now play as the Colorado Avalanche.
Prior to the game, the group of Nordiques supporters -- calling themselves the "Nordiques Nation" -- rallied in the parking lot. The leader, Vince Cauchon, a Quebec radio personality, spoke to the group in French through a bullhorn as buses pulled up alongside dropping off more supporters. In all there were 22 busloads of fans totaling a shade over 1,000 people who made the 10-hour drive from Quebec City to Uniondale. The group consisted of Québécois from every age bracket who came with friends, spouses and in some cases, their children.
What looked like it could be a somewhat hostile protest to return a team to Quebec, turned out to be a loud, yet cheerful celebration of hockey. Islanders fans and Coliseum security exchanged kind words with the fans from north of the border during their rally outside. Catching a part of one interaction, an Islanders fan jokingly told a Nordiques fan, "You can have 'em" referring to the Islanders and their poor play. The spectacle of it all was just that and certainly took a lot of the attention away from the ice. For the Islanders, the loss to the Thrashers made this their 19th loss in 20 games -- and maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. During one of their worst seasons, taking the attention off the play on the ice could be a welcome distraction. For the opposing Thrashers, it was likely just another game on the road, one out of 41.
After the Nation moved inside, they took their seats in the upper bowl behind the Thrashers net. They were jubilant and cheered for the hometown Islanders, as they had said they would. Early in the first period, chants of "Let's go Bruno!" broke out for Bruno Gervais, a Quebec-born Islander. The Nation cheered the Islanders goals and screamed "shoot! shoot!" when the Islanders were in the opposing zone on a 5-on-3 power play. The loudest eruption was reserved for the 15-minute mark of every period, when the group would stand up and make as much noise as they could. It was to commemorate the 15-year anniversary of their beloved Nordiques leaving Quebec. The group counted down from ten to zero in French before cheering for at least 30-seconds each time.
Friendly and loud invaders, the group came in peace. "We just want to enjoy the NHL, have the NHL in Quebec City," said Sebastien Morin, a member of the Nordique Nation in charge of leading one of the buses. For a day, the group were all Islanders fans. They started "Let's Go Islanders!" chants and were part of the eruption when the Islanders tied the game at three mid-way through the third period.
To the credit of the Islanders, they welcomed the foreign fans. After the Nation's acknowledgment of 15-minutes to go in the second period, the JumboTron and the public address announcer welcomed the "Residents of Quebec" in attendance. Throughout the game, there were shots of blue and red clad fans on the Jumboton.
With five minutes to go in the game and the Islanders down by two goals, the Nation came down to the lower bowls of the arena behind the Thrashers' and cheered their heads off. Many of them clapped with their hands above their heads as if to say "thanks" during the TV timeout. As play resumed and the Islanders pushed into the offensive zone on an odd-man rush, the Nation erupted into chants of "Mason! Mason!" in an attempt to get in the head of the Thrashers' netminder and trying to will the Islanders to victory as if they were their Nordiques. To their delight, the Islanders would get one back and cut the lead to one with 1:16 left in the third, leading to a frantic final minute on the ice and in the stands.
When it was all said and done, the groups' main hope was that someone outside of the 10,000 in attendance heard their message. Those in the stands heard them loud and clear but they weren't the main target. That has to be the league office, who plays a big part in whether or not they can help the Nation achieve their goal. "We don't want the Thrashers," Morin said. "We don't want the Islanders. We don't want the Florida Panthers. We want a team of our own."