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Bruce Bennett

Quebec independantistes call it the culmination of a long-standing dream: the creation of a separate hockey team.

The province has been given the go-ahead to assemble its own team for an international tournament at which it will be host to at least three countries' national squads.

Hockey Canada has authorized the creation of Team Quebec to play against national teams from France, Italy and Switzerland in the proposed Quebec Cup next August in the provincial capital.

The plan is to have NHLers suit up for a separate Quebec squad - a move that Quebec nationalists have, over the years and again on Friday, cited as a long-cherished goal.

In some Quebec media circles, the move was being cast as a historic breakthrough after a 30-year struggle to field an independent Quebec squad.

But an organizer said there's no attempt to make a statement about Quebec independence.

"We don't do politics - we do sports," said Hockey Quebec director-general Sylvain Lalonde.

He said the team will seek to recruit NHLers first, then players from other leagues in North America and Europe - as long as they're from Quebec.

"We [want]the best team in Quebec to represent us at this first tournament in Quebec City," he said.

Mr. Lalonde said no teams or players have been confirmed yet. But he's hoping for a good turnout by NHL players in August because it's still a couple of weeks before their training camp.

Members of the Parti Quebecois were delighted by the announcement.

"When we talk about Team Quebec, it's like talking about a dream," PQ opposition critic Etienne-Alexis Boucher said in a statement.

Another Pequiste called it a great idea.

"Why not? Why not?" said the PQ's Bernard Drainville. "Scotland is not a sovereign country and they have the right, they have their own national teams on the soccer scene. You know, the federal Parliament recognized Quebec as a nation. Having Quebec forming its own hockey team would be a great, concrete and tangible way to give significance [to that]"

Hockey Canada, which sanctioned the event, played down the significance of the move.

It points out that provincial and regional teams regularly square off against the national teams of other countries.

Hockey Canada chief operating officer Scott Smith said the provincial organization had to accept two conditions: any player taking part must be registered with the Quebec hockey federation, and communications with any international hockey federations must go through Hockey Canada.

"This is a team representing one of our provinces," he said. "We just have to make sure that any of those [players]are registered with the provincial federation in Quebec."

Mr. Smith would not comment when asked whether he's worried the tournament might become a political hot potato.

"My preference is to comment on the hockey side of it," he said.

Others see great significance in the move.

Sports columnist Rejean Tremblay of Montreal La Presse said people in Quebec have wondered for decades how their own would fare against the best in the world.

He suggested a number of possible players, such as Vincent Lecavalier and Martin Brodeur, and potential coaches such as Guy Carbonneau or Patrick Roy. He mentioned Maxim Lapierre, a Montreal Canadiens third- and fourth-liner, but omitted to mention Olympic starting goalie Roberto Luongo.

When contacted by The Canadian Press on Friday, Mr. Carbonneau said he liked the idea. But he did not offer any other comments.

Mr. Lalonde of Hockey Quebec said he would seek federal and provincial funding the same way figure-skating and speed-skating tournaments do.

In Ottawa, however, the Heritage department issued a one-line statement: "Sport Canada does not contribute to this hockey tournament."

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