Peter Black column: Farewell to the old barn

Peter Black column: Farewell to the old barn

LiQ_Mag_Dec_2014This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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The Colisée will soon be no more.

The first last NHL game played at the old Colisée was in May, 1995. A blown call by the referee nullified a Joe Sakic goal which would have put the Nordiques ahead 3-0 in game five against the Rangers in the first-round playoff series. Instead, New York bounced back, won in overtime and went on to win the series 4-2.

Shortly afterwards, following a failed last-ditch attempt by then-premier Jacques Parizeau to come up with a deal for a new arena, the Nordiques became the property of Colorado investors and left town.

Flash forward some 19 years and there’s the surreal scene of Patrick Roy at the Colisée, behind the bench of the team that was once the Nordiques.

Much hockey history has passed between these moments, including a pair of Stanley Cups for Roy and the Avalanche, and the fulfillment of the stellar careers of the former Nordiques’ young guns – Sakic, Forsberg and Nolan, among others.

It is a pre-season game between the Avs and Habs and while there are a multitude of storylines for the encounter, the one stirring the most buzz is that this is most likely the last time ever that NHL teams will play in the old Québec rink, a palace stuffed to its insulation-flaking rafters with memories.

These memories will surely come flooding back with the sparkling clarity of a Zamboni’s wake as the countdown begins to the opening of the new building next fall.

For this microphone-wielding radio rat, the venerable Colisée has been the scene of encounters with a succession of immortals of the hockey pantheon. A post-game chat with Wayne Gretzky, for example, was remarkable for how patient and reflective he was with an annoying (and secretly star-struck) reporter. The Kings had suffered yet another loss in a prolonged slump that even the Great One could not fix. What’s more, his father Walter was in very precarious health at the time.

Fortunately for the Gretzky clan, Walter bounced back and a few years ago dropped by the big Pee-Wee tournament at the Colisée, where Wayne had played in 1974, and delighted fans with his humour and energy.

I got to interview Gretzky’s generational successor, Sidney Crosby, when he made his first appearance in the Québec barn with its banners raised high to Lafleur, Béliveau and Malone. Shy, but already focused and media-savvy for a 16-year-old, the Kid confessed that he was tickled to be playing in such a hockey shrine.

On the other end of the coil of life was Hall of Fame coach Pat Burns, then in remission from the cancer that would take him two years later. He had signed on as a coach for Team Canada in the 2008 IIHF hockey championships, where Canada lost in the final to a hot-dogging Alex Ovechkin and Team Russia. In my chat with him, Burns was the picture of dignity and determination.

Then there was the event a Toronto Maple Leafs fan living in Québec City would still find impossible to believe. Wendel Clark – my captain! – shipped to the Nordiques for Mats Sundin – my captain! – in 1994. I had the peculiar honour of being at the presser to welcome Wendel to his new hockey home and conveying Don Cherry’s disapproval of the deal (a Swede for a prairie warrior!).

That season when the Leafs came to town, there was the amazing scene of double Olympic gold medal-winning biathlete Myriam Bédard, hoisted on the shoulders of Clark and Sundin, doing a victory lap of the Colisée.

We could go on and on. But I figure the best way to cherish the memory of the Colisée, as it faces its final days as the premier hockey venue in Québec City, is to play there.

LiQ_Mag_Abonnez-vousAnd so it will come to pass this winter that our little gang of hockey has-beens and wannabes will take to the sacred sheet of ice and create our own memories of Colisée glory.

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About Author

Peter Black

For years Peter Black was the producer of Breakaway, on CBC Radio One in Quebec City. Before arriving in Quebec City in the 1990s, he lived and worked in Ottawa and Montreal. Peter is married and has two sons.

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