Wednesday, April 20, 2016

La Bataille du Québec 1979-1995 - The Montreal Canadiens vs. the Quebec Nordiques

Since the demise of the anglophone Montreal Maroons in 1938, the Montreal Canadiens had the French speaking province of Quebec all to themselves for 41 seasons until the 1979 NHL expansion which admitted the four surviving members of the World Hockey Association, one of which was the Quebec Nordiques, who were based out of Quebec City, located 145 miles to the northeast of Montreal.

Montreal to Quebec photo Montreal to Quebec.png
Quebec City just up the Saint Lawrence River from Montreal

The rivalry started before play even began when the Canadiens were one of five NHL clubs to vote no on the proposal to include the WHA teams in the NHL. However, the owner of the Canadiens, Molson Breweries feared a boycott of their product by not only the citizens of Quebec, one of whom called in a bomb threat to the Molson brewery in Quebec City after the no vote, but also in both Edmonton and Winnipeg, the other two Canadian cities with WHA clubs affected by proposed expansion.

Proof that fans were upset with the Canadiens no vote came in sales of a mere 100 bottles of Molson at the next Jets game in Winnipeg, when they would normally sell 2,500 bottles. Signs appeared in the affected team's arenas which read "Molson's Don't Want Us. We Don't Want Molson's". The Canadiens eventually voted for the expansion, but were able to win a provision that the Nordiques would not receive a share of national television revenue for five years. "Our primary consideration in changing our vote was selling beer," Montreal president Jacques Courtois said at the time.

At first, the two teams were placed in separate divisions, with Montreal in the Norris and Quebec in the Adams, which limited the intensity of the rivalry. The two teams met for the first time on October 13, 1979, which was won by the host Canadiens 3-1. Their first meeting in Quebec City came a little over two weeks later, which was won by the Nordiques in upset fashion 5-4.

Over the Nordiques first two seasons in the NHL Montreal held a slight edge at 3-2-3 with each team holding serve at home.

Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec, Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec
A rivalry was born with the Nordiques entered the NHL in 1979

One factor in the rivalry between the two clubs was that, while Quebec City was the capital of the province, Montreal was a much larger, more cosmopolitan city with a population four to five times that of Quebec. With the Nordiques now in the NHL, it was the first time Quebec City felt it could compete head to head with Montreal at any level.

The rivalry intensified in 1981-82 when the NHL realigned along geographical lines, which saw Montreal now placed in the Adams Division with the Nordiques. Along with the change in divisions, the schedule was also altered. The old system saw each club play every other team four times and the first place team in the regular season was matched with the 16th and last team to qualify for the playoffs without regard for conferences. Now, the new format called for each team to play the other clubs in their division eight times and the first two rounds of the playoffs would now take place entirely within the division.

The 1981-82 season series between the Canadiens and Nordiques saw the teams tie at 3-3-2 with Montreal taking a win in Quebec City, the first time either team was able to secure a victory on the road.

Montreal would win the Adams Division with a 46-17-17 record for 109 points, while Quebec (33-31-16, 82 points) finished fourth behind the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres to set up a first round playoff matchup with the heavily favored Canadiens.

Game 1 went to the Canadiens 5-1, who outshot the Nordiques by a whopping 41-19. Game 2 was tied 2-2 after two periods but Dan Bouchard shut down the Canadiens while Pierre Aubry's goal at 2:30 in the third held up as the game winner for the Nordiques to even the best-of-five series 1-1 as the Nordiques took away a vital 3-2 win on the road, their first ever win in Montreal.

Dan Bouchard photo Dan Bouchard.jpg
Dan Bouchard got the first Nordiques win in Montreal

With the series now shifted to Quebec City, the Nordiques got two goals within 1:12 of each other late in the first period, which held up for a 2-1 win for the underdogs. The rivalry really arrived in Game 4 when a huge bench clearing brawl erupted at the 9:20 mark of the first period which resulted in 154 penalty minutes from 2 minors, 4 majors, 11 misconducts and 2 game misconducts. On the scoreboard, it was all Montreal as they cruised to a 6-2 win, forcing a decisive Game 5 back in Montreal.

The Nordiques struck first with a goal at 4:40 of the first period and added a power play goal at 14:49. Their two goal lead held up through the midway point of the third period when the Canadiens began their comeback with a goal at 10:49 and the equalizer arrived at 12:14 to the delight of the home fans. Bouchard again held off the Canadiens through the remainder of regulation as the shots on goal for the first 60 minutes heavily favored Montreal, 35-18.

If we didn't have a rivalry before, we had one now as the hated Dale Hunter scored the winning goal just 22 seconds into overtime as the Nordiques eliminated Montreal despite finishing 27 points behind them in the regular season standings, kicking "The Battle of Quebec" into a new level of intensity that can only come from the playoffs.

Hunter Nordiques photo Hunter Nordiques.jpg
Dale Hunter scored the goal that eliminated Montreal in 1982,
igniting the already simmering rivalry between the two clubs

After Hunter's goal, beer sales in the province dropped by 9.2% as fans avoided products sold by the owner of their rival franchise, as the Canadiens were owned by Canada's second largest brewer Molson, while the Nordiques were controlled by the third largest, Carling O'Keefe. The rivalry also affected beer sales the other way as well, as during the first 10 years Carling O'Keefe owned the Noriques, their share of sales in the province rose from 25% to 32%.

Yet another factor in the rivalry was the intense coverage by the French press, which often featured page after page of hype in advance of games, followed by even more ink following the games which featured many quotes which would be scrutinized and magnified, often later ending up on the blackboard in the opposing locker room before the next game.

Montreal won the 1982-83 season series 5-2-1 while the Nordiques took the 1983-84 series 5-3. During the playoffs 4th place Montreal upset the Boston Bruins while the 3rd place Nordiques did the same to the Buffalo Sabres, setting up the second playoff series between the two clubs.

The political situation in Quebec at the time was also one of great debate and passion, as there was a strong movement for Quebec to break away from the rest of English-speaking Canada, and the Canadiens came to be seen as the team favored by those who were against the idea of separation, while the Nordiques, whose jerseys proudly were reflective of the flag of Quebec and it's light blue color and fleur-de-lis, came to be seen as a symbol of Quebec's independence.

Quebec Rally, Quebec Rally
The independence movement in Quebec
added even more passion to the rivalry

Game 1 went to the home Nordiques 4-2, which saw 4 major penalties and 2 misconducts. Montreal turned the tables the next night with three goals in the final 12 minutes of the game to turn a 1-1 nailbiter into an easy 4-1 triumph.

The third game in Montreal went the way of the Canadiens 2-1 while Game 4 saw the Nordiques fight back from a 3-1 deficit late in the second period to send the game into overtime, which they won with Bo Berglund's goal 3:00 into overtime to tie the series at 2-2.

Game 5 in Quebec City was a 4-0 blanking for Montreal, who now put the Nordiques on the brink of elimination, down 3 games to 2.

The 6th game was back at the Forum in Montreal on this date in 1984 and the tone was set early with George McPhee and Wilf Paiement each receiving fighting majors just 23 seconds into the game. Bobby Smith and Michel Goulet were sent off next with matching minors at 2:48. Craig Ludwing's minor for Montreal at 4:18 was followed by Jean Hamel's at 5:01, giving the Nordiques a 5-on-3 advantage, which led to Peter Stastny's powerplay goal for the Nordiques at 5:12. Chris Nilan and Pat Price later were sent off together at 17:23 of the first as the pot continued to simmer.

Peter Stastny Nordiques photo Peter Stastny.jpg
Peter Stastny

There was no scoring in the second period and more than fifteen minutes of it passed with only a single minor to Goulet at 3:52. Then Chris Chelios and Hunter were sent off at 15:20. After Hunter returned, he and Rick Green of Montreal were whistled for minors at 17:39. Just 20 seconds after play resumed, Ludwig and Anton Stastny fought and received fighting majors. The feistiness continued with Andre Dore getting a minor at 19:44 followed by Smith for Montreal just four seconds after play resumed.

When the final whistle for the period blew with the puck in front of the Quebec goal, Hunter crosschecked Guy Carbonneau to the ice and fell on top of him. As one of Carbonneau's teammates came to his aid, other Nordiques came over to make sure things were even while both benches emptied as the period was over. As the scrum in start of the net began to boil over, punches began to fly when Montreal's Nilan sucker punched Randy Moller of the Nordiques, which set off a huge brawl and enraged Moller. Players paired off with no less than 14 fights breaking out, including one between the backup goaltenders Richard Sevigny and Clint Malarchuk!

Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec, Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec
The first part of the Good Friday Massacre

After three minutes things died down with Hamel down and bloody on the ice after being nailed by Louie Sleigher. This was the end of the fracas and the teams departed for their locker rooms for the second intermission.

Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec, Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec
Louie Sleigher sucker punches Jean Hamel

While during the break, the Canadiens players were able to learn the details of the sucker punch which laid out Hamel and they came out before the start of the next period with revenge on their minds, and in those days players could go on the ice before the period and get in a little warmup skate, not simply coming out onto the bench like it's done today.

Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec, Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec
Referee Bruce Hood explaining the penalties to captains Bob Gainey and Mario Marois as trouble was brewing elsewhere on the ice

Sleigher, who had been given a game misconduct for his role in the fighting at the end of the second period but had not been informed yet(!), along with several other players who should not have even been allowed on the ice (troublemaker Nilan in particular) for the start of the third period, was sought out by the Canadiens before the puck was even dropped, only this time the Nordiques Dale Hunter, who missed out on much of the first brawl having left the ice after his part in the fight at the end of the period, was now on the ice and he was eventually engaged by none other than Canadiens goaltender Sevigny!

Calm had seemingly returned at one point after a few brief battles until Montreal's Mark Hunter (Dale's brother) persisted in going after Sleigher and when Dale Hunter tried to stop Mark Hunter, Dale Hunter was grabbed by Mario Tremblay, who was jumped from behind by Andre Dore, setting off another round of fury, which included Rick LaPointe and Chelios leaping into the fray and Mark and Dale Hunter even fighting each other, all the while the Forum P. A. Announcer was reading off the penalties from the battle at the end of the second period! The entire affair was dubbed "The Good Friday Massacre" with over 250 penalty minutes being handed out during the game.

Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec, Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec
The flash point when Dore jumped on Tremblay who had tackled Dale Hunter, while Mark Hunter #20 went after Sliegher

"The rivalry back then was like a balloon that inflated a little more each game and then on that night, the balloon finally popped. It's been over 25 years and we're still talking bout that incident like it was three months ago," said Sevigny in 2010.

Once play resumed, Quebec scored at 2:02 to take a 2-0 lead, only to have the inspired Canadiens come storming back with five straight goals in eight minutes to eventually win the game 5-3 and eliminate the favored Nordiques 4 games to 2, triggering a celebration in the streets of Montreal which lasted until 3 AM, said to be larger than the last time the Canadiens had won the Stanley Cup!

The following season Montreal dominated 6-1-1 and the teams met in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. It was a back and fourth series, with the Nordiques winning Game 1 in overtime in Montreal. The Canadiens won Game 2 by a score of 6-4. It was the Nordiques turn to win at home in overtime of Game 3 in a wild 7-6 affair. Montreal won 3-1 in Quebec City to even the series at 2-2. The teams then traded road wins with the Nordiques winning 5-1 before Montreal forced a Game 7 with their 5-2 win in Quebec City. The pattern continued in the decisive game, as it was now the Nordiques turn to win, which they did with Peter Stastny's goal at 2:22 of overtime eliminating the Canadiens in Montreal, the fifth road win and third overtime game of the hotly contested series.

Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec, Nordiques vs. Canadiens Battle of Quebec
The Canadiens and Nordiques met for the third time in four years in 1985

The two clubs did not meet in the 1986 playoffs after Quebec dominated the regular season 6-2, only to see the Canadiens capture the Stanley Cup after the Nordiques were eliminated in the first round by the Whalers.

In 1986-87, the playoffs loomed once again, as the two intense rivals were to meet in the second round. The Nordiques won Games 1 and 2 in Montreal (7-5 and 2-1) only to have Montreal do the same at Le Colisee in Quebec City (7-2 and 3-2), with Game 4 being decided in overtime and featuring a pregame fight between Basil McRae and Sergio Momesso. From then on the games all belonged to the home teams, with Montreal winning Game 5 (aided by a go ahead goal for Quebec by Alain Cote being waved off which caused Nordiques coach Michel Bergeron to declare that the game had been "stolen" from them) and Quebec taking Game 6 by identical 3-2 scores. Montreal then won the series with five goals in the second period of Game 7 to win 5-3 and end the Nordiques season and tie their all-time playoff meetings at two wins apiece.

The Nordiques spoiled the party by failing to qualify for the postseason for the next five seasons as they sank to the depths of the standings, finishing dead last in 1989, 1990 and 1991 as well as 21st out of 22 in 1992.
All the high draft picks the Nordiques accumulated during their wandering the hockey desert began to pay off in 1992-93 when they once again qualified for the playoffs with a strong 47-27-10 mark for 104 points, two better than the Canadiens. Thanks to the inter-divisional playoff format, two of the top six teams in the league were forced to play each other in a titanic opening round series, the fifth meeting in "La Bataille du Québec". The Nordiques entered the playoffs with an entirely new roster that the previous time the two clubs met. Gone were Goulet, the Stastny brothers, Hunter, Cote and Malarchuk and in were Mats Sundin, Joe Sakic, Mike Ricci, Owen Nolan, Valeri Kamensky and goaltender Ron Hextall, many of whom were experiencing the playoffs for the very first time.

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New arrivals Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin of the Nordiques

Quebec won Games 1 and 2 at home, 3-2 in overtime and 4-1 to give the upstarts hope that victory was possible only to have the Canadiens win Games 3 and 4 at home, with the third one coming in overtime. Back in Quebec, Montreal led Game 5 with the only goal of the first period only to have the Nordiques fight back with a pair of goals to take the lead. The Canadiens added a pair to surge back in front before Nolan and Sundin put Quebec back in front once again! Montreal was able to get the equalizer to force another overtime and Kirk Muller disappointed the home fans with the game winner at 8:17 from Vincent Damphousse and Eric Desjardins, who had each scored a goal in Montreal's first comeback in the second period.

Kirk Muller photo Kirk Muller.jpg
Kirk Muller

Game 6 back in Montreal saw the Canadiens go up by two but once more the resilient Nordiques battled back to tie the game with two goals in less than five minutes early in the second period. The Canadiens were not rattled though, as they added a pair of their own before the period was over and Patrick Roy in goal shut down Quebec the rest of the way as Montreal pulled away with two more goals in the third period to win the series on their way to an eventual Stanley Cup championship later that spring.

Canadiens Stanley Cup 1993 photo Canadiens Stanley Cup 1993.jpg
The Canadiens won their second Stanley Cup in 1993
since the arrival of the Nordiques in the NHL in 1979

The Nordiques missed the playoffs the following season and Montreal did not qualify in 1995, bringing to an end their legendary rivalry as the Nordiques dire financial situation would lead to them being sold to interests in the United States who would relocate the team to Denver, Colorado, ending their 23 years in Quebec City and their 16 year battle with the Canadiens.

"The rivalry was extraordinary," said Carbonneau, a former Canadiens captain and coach. "We lived the hatred on the ice."

Thanks to the Nordiques dismal period in the early 1990's, Montreal won the all-time series 62-39-12, but of the five times the teams met in the playoffs, one series went the full five games, two six and two the full seven for a total of 31 games out of a possible 33, with Montreal holding a narrow edge in games 17-14 with the Canadiens winning three series to the Nordiques two, and each team pulling off upsets of the other in one of the most intense rivalries the NHL has ever seen.

Good Friday Massacre photo Good Friday Brawl.jpg
The Battle of Quebec often saw emotions boil over

While the rivalry was ongoing, Montreal would win a pair of Stanley Cups, only adding to Quebec City's frustration with and inferiority complex because of Montreal, as the Nordiques would never reach the finals. Salt was rubbed into the wound when the relocated Nordiques, now renamed the Avalanche, would immediately win the Stanley Cup in their first try after moving with the nucleus of players drafted by the Nordiques, plus quite ironically, the addition of the despised former Canadiens goaltending superstar Roy who put the club over the top.

Sakic Roy Stanley Cup photo Sakic Roy Stanley Cup.jpg
Former rivals, Sakic and Roy teamed to win the 1996 Stanley Cup
for the former Nordiques the very first season after they left Quebec

Today's featured jersey is a 1981-82 Quebec Nordiques Dale Hunter jersey. The Nordiques wore the same jerseys throughout their entire run in the NHL, with the only adjustments being using brands Sandow SK, Maska and CCM. The Nordiques were the last team to use heat sealed numbers prior to changing to sewn on twill in 1991-92 when red trim was added to the previously single color numbers for both their home and road jerseys. Note the condition of the back numbers on today's featured jersey's heat sealed numbers.

Patches worn by the Nordiques were the Canada Games patch in 1982-83, Rendez Vous '87 in 1986-87 and the league wide NHL 75th Anniversary patch in 1991-92 and the Stanley Cup Centennial patch in 1992-93, which was produced in a special French version for the Nordiques and Canadiens, which read "Coupe Stanley".

Dale Hunter had a 19 year NHL career, the first seven with the Nordiques and then 12 with the Washington Capitals before closing out his career with a dozen games with the Avalanche. He scored 323 career goals and 1,020 points as well as 3,565 penalty minutes.

Quebec Nordiques 81-82 jersey, Quebec Nordiques 81-82 jersey
Quebec Nordiques 81-82 jersey, Quebec Nordiques 81-82 jersey

Today's other featured jersey is a 1982-83 Montreal Canadiens Mark Hunter jersey. An unchanging icon of hockey jerseys, the Canadiens classic red sweaters date back to 1912-13, four years before the formation of the NHL.

Mark Hunter played 12 NHL seasons, including four with the Canadiens during their rivalry with the Nordiques, which famously included his fight on this date in 1984 with his brother Dale. He would subsequently play for the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, Hartford Whalers and Washington Capitals while amassing 1,426 career penalty minutes.

Montreal Canadiens 82-83 jersey, Montreal Canadiens 82-83 jersey
Montreal Canadiens 82-83 jersey, Montreal Canadiens 82-83 jersey

Today's video section begins with the first outbreak of fighting at the end of the second period, which includes Hamel being sucker punched by Sleigher and continues with the players fighting again when they come out to start the third period, which includes the Hunter brothers throwing punches at each other!

For an 11 minute CBC Radio story on the rivalry focusing one the cultural differences between the two clubs, click here.

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