Sports radio host Vincent Cauchon says he remembers being criticized at a Quebec City convenience store for buying Molson beer products – 20 years after the brewer vetoed plans for the Nordiques to enter the NHL in the late 1970s.
The Molson Brewery, owner of the Montreal Canadiens, didn't want to lose market share to Carling O'Keefe, a rival brewer that owned the World Hockey Association's Quebec Nordiques, Cauchon explained.
"People heard about the veto, there was a large boycott of Molson products," Cauchon said in an interview at his station, CHOI Radio X. "In the bars it was a real war like people can't imagine. That was the start of the rivalry."
The 1979 WHA-NHL merger happened in the end after Molson and other team owners reversed their veto, but the Montreal-Quebec City rivalry intensified and still exists more than 20 years after the Nordiques moved to Colorado.
Quebecers will have to wait, however, for the on-ice war to return amid recent reports the NHL has chosen Las Vegas for an expansion franchise and rejected Quebec City. The NHL is expected to make it official this week.
Despite having a new arena – the gleaming white, saucer-shaped Videotron Centre on the outskirts of the city centre – locals will have to be patient, says Jerome Landry, Cauchon's friend and radio host on Énergie 98.9.
Landry says Quebec City is a great "plan B" for the NHL, meaning the league knows it can successfully move a struggling franchise to the provincial capital if a current team fails.
Las Vegas, he said, offers the NHL a higher-profile platform to market its product.
"Quebec City is a sure shot like Winnipeg," Landry said in an interview in the studio in the affluent Sillery neighbourhood near the historic old town. "The love of hockey is close to a mental illness here and the NHL knows that."
Cauchon and Landry helped launch Nordiques Nation around 2009, and the group quickly amassed about 100,000 members online.
The nation bused hundreds of fans from Quebec City to watch NHL games around the United States and Canada to drum up support for a franchise.
Landry said he was 18 when the Nordiques packed up for Colorado in 1995.
"It was our lives," he said. "When the Nordiques met the Canadiens, everyone in the city was talking about the game – the day before, the day of and the day after."
Cauchon agrees Quebec City is mad about hockey but says citizens are also still kind of mad at Montreal.
Just as English Canada resents Toronto for taking up so much space in the national dialogue, Quebec City often feels dwarfed by the bigger and richer metropolis 250 kilometres down the highway.
"Montrealers call it a complex that we have – it's not a complex," Cauchon said.
The anger or hatred toward Quebec's biggest city comes from the fact the media, TV shows and other cultural content seem to be from Montreal or about Montreal, he said.
"It's that big city you always hear about," Cauchon said. "We're sick of it. The people of Quebec City hate that everything they consume almost all comes from Montreal."
The Nordiques, he explains, are the brand and cultural content "around which we could rally and say to Montrealers, 'we are a big enough city with our Nordiques to battle you on the same ice in the sport that everybody loves.'" About a 10-minute drive from the city's old ramparts, Yves Masse, 72, and his partner parked their car in the desolate, outdoor lot flanking the Videotron Centre and walked around admiring the imposing structure.
The couple from Kamouraska, about 175 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, happened to be in the capital and decided to make the detour.
"In life, there are always setbacks," Masse said, referring to the NHL's reported decision to choose Las Vegas over Quebec City.
While the provincial capital waits its turn, the arena is home to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and is the main venue in the city and surrounding region for major events and concerts.
Masse, looking up at the snow-white oval towering over the neighbourhood, simply said, "Quebecers should be proud."