It’s January 2022, and the provincial government of Quebec will be meeting with the National Hockey League to discuss the possibility of bringing a professional hockey team back to the city of Quebec for the first time since 1995. In a time whern just seven percent of NHL players are from Quebec, part of the motivation for the Quebec government was that they want to increase hockey participation and national pride amongst the Quebec people.
From 1979 to 1995, the province of Quebec did had two NHL teams who had one of the leagues fiercest rivalries, the Montreal Canadiens vs the Quebec Nordiques. It was only sixteen years, but the rivalry featured plenty of flashpoint’s and playoff’s matchups which are still fondly remembered in both cities. But there is much more to this rivalry than just the Canadiens versus the Nordiques. Indeed the history of professional hockey between the two can be traced over a century ago, and for the first time in the Canadian Sports Rivalries series, we will take a deep dive into collegiate sports to cover the rivalry between the two cities on the football field. The provincial capital versus the provinces biggest city, this is the story of Montreal verses Quebec City, The Battle of Quebec.
Before the National Hockey League, there was the National Hockey Association. The inaugural season of the NHA was in 1910, and the league included three teams from Montreal, the Wanderers, the Shamrocks and the best known of the three… Les Canadiens de Montréal, also known as the Montreal Canadiens. That inaugural NHA season was tough for the Canadiens, they finished last in the league with just two wins in the twelve game season. In the following 1910/11 season, the league would add a new team, the Quebec Bulldogs. For the first time, Montreal and Quebec would compete in professional hockey, and the Canadiens would win the first ever matchup between the two francophone cities 4-1 in Quebec City.
Both teams would split the remaining two games 1-1 to give a Montreal a 2-1 head to head win that season as they finished second in the NHA, whilst Quebec finished last. But the 1911/12 season was much closer ran. Just two wins separated the two rivals at the seasons conclusion, and it would be the Bulldogs who did just enough to not only edge out Montreal, but would finish top of the NHA, winning the O’Brien cup in the process. Quebec would then go onto win the Stanley Cup that year, the first time Hockeys biggest prize was won by the city of Quebec.
The good times would roll over to the 1912/13 season for Quebec, as they won three of four games against Montreal and won the NHA again, this time by a resounding six wins. The Bulldogs retained Stanley Cup, now giving them a 2-0 leas over the Canadiens when it came to Stanley Cups. Montreal would get revenge the following season though, they defeated the Bulldogs 2-1 late in the season, which proved to be decisive as they pipped Quebec to the playoffs by just one win. The Canadiens would go even further in 1915/16, dominating their Quebec foe in the regular season on route to fishing first in the NHA, and going on to beat the Portland Rosebuds in the Stanley Cup final, the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. By 1917, Montreal where founding member of the National Hockey League, and where the only Quebec team in the league.
The Bulldogs sat out the first two seasons due to financial issues, but in 1919/1920, Quebec City was back, this time as the Quebec Athletics. It wouldn’t be a happy return to the ice for Quebec, they won just one game out of eight against Montreal as they finished the season with just four wins on the year. The anti-climactic return to professional hockey would get even worse when after just one NHL season, the team was sold and moved to Hamilton to become the Hamilton Tigers, bringing an end to professional hockey in Quebec City. Between 1912 and 1920, the Montreal Canadiens and Quebec Bulldogs combined for three Stanley Cups and four O’Brien trophies, with Quebec holding a slim lead in Stanley Cups won. But over the next sixty years, the Montreal Canadiens would be a juggernaut of success in the NHL, winning an astonishing twenty-one Stanley Cups from 1924-1979. 1979 would also be the next big flashpoint in the rivalry between the two Francophone cities.
In 1972, the NHL faced competition from a new professional Hockey league, the World Hockey Association (WHA). One of the leagues founding members was a Quebec City based team called the Quebec Nordiques. In a league plagued with teams folding, the Nordiques where one of the leagues most successful franchises. After going close in 1975, Nordiques stars Réal Cloutier, Marc Tardif and Chris Bordeleau lead the East division winning Nordiques all the way to the Avco World Trophy final where they defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-3 to give Quebec City it’s first professional hockey championship since 1913.
As the WHA continued to be plagued financially, there was talks between both the NHL and WHA regarding a merger, and in 1979 the Quebec Nordiques where one of the four WHA teams added to the National Hockey League, immediately rekindling the rivalry with Montreal. There was animosity between the two franchises from the very beginning, during the merger talks, Canadiens ownership was opposed to letting Quebec City into the league fearing that sharing a hockey market with a provincial rival would lead to a loss of revenue. Canadiens ownership also owned Molson brewery, upon the news of Montreals reluctance to the merger, fans in Quebec City organised a boycott of Molson products, eventually spreading nation wide and at one point even the Canadian government got involved, urging the NHL to let the WHA teams in.
Indeed this was a rivalry that was far from confined to just the ice rink. In 1981, Quebec City had a population of 434,980, in contrast Montreal had a metro population of 2,862,286. Despite being the capital,the city of Quebec was often disregarded compared to its much larger neighbour Montreal, the merger now gave Quebecers the chance to compete and be sporting equals with their big brother. There was also the issue of Quebecois nationalism and representing the Francophone population of Canada. For decades, the Montreal Canadiens where the pride of the province, thee francophone team of Canada. But suddenly, along came a new team from Quebec that played in blue and their uniform had multiple fleur-de-lis symbols on it, very reminiscent of the Quebec provincial Flag.
Quebec City is a more monolingual francophone city than Montreal. As of 2016 census, 92% of Quebec City residents cited French as their mother tongue, in contrast only 49% of Montreal residents said French was their mother tongue. In fact compared to a similar poll in 1996, closer to the time when the Quebec Nordiques where in the league, Montreal has gotten less Francophone, and Quebec City has increased in its french speaking presence. During the Nordiques existence, the city had just one privately owned anglophone television station and one privately owned anglophone radio station. There was one anglophone news paper, and the Nordiques themselves operated almost entirely in French, which included tannoy announcements at Nordiques home games.
Meanwhile, Montreal operated as a much more bilingual franchise, although the Canadiens are a proud Quebec organisation, suddenly there was a team that claimed to be more French. Throughout the rivalry, the teams would become somewhat symbolic with Quebec politics and Quebec separatism. For the most part, The Canadiens tended to have the support of those in the province who wanted to remain in Canada, the Nordiques in contrast where the focus of support from fans who wanted Quebec to succeed from Canada. In the 1995 Quebec Independence Referendum, voters from Montreal voted on average to stay in Canada, while voters in Quebec City were much more likely to vote for Quebec independence. Even the ownership of both sides where at odds, the Canadiens where owned by Molson Brewery, meanwhile the Nordiques where owned by Carling O’Keefe, meaning they where now competing in beer sales, as well as the support of the province. But most importantly, they would be competing head to head on the rink.
The rivalry actually got off to a civil start on October 13th 1979, when the home Montreal crowd gave the Nordiques players a standing ovation when they entered the ice. Montreal won the first NHL game between the two cities since 1920 3-1, not surprising given that Montreal had won the Stanley Cup four years in a row. But just fifteen days later, the two sides met for the first time in Quebec City in a game you could’ve mistaken for a Stanley Cup game seven such was the atmosphere. The Nordiques won a nine goal thriller 5-4, and such was the feeling among the home crowd that even 30 minutes after the game ended, the fans where still cheering and celebrating at Quebec’s Colisée de Québec.
The Nordiques would finish last in their division that year in contrast to Montreal who won theres by 32 points. It wouldn’t take long however for the rivalry to become more even on the ice. For the 1981/82 season, both sides where placed into the same division and come playoff time, they would meet in the first round. Montreal finished 27 points ahead of Quebec but lost to them three times in the regular season. At a time when the first round of the playoffs was a best of five affair, the series was tied at two apiece going into a deciding game five at the Montreal Forum. The Canadiens rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force an overtime, but just 22 seconds into overtime, Dale Hunter scored the series winning goal for the Nordiques, stunning the home crowd. The Nordiques made it all the way to the conference finals that year, and had laid a mark on Montreal, legitimising this rivalry as being competitive on the ice.
They wouldn’t have to wait long for a second playoff matchup, just two years later in 1984. In 1983/84, Quebec actually finished above Montreal for the first time in their short franchise history, however Montreal beat Quebec 4-0 in game five, taking a 3-2 series lead and setting up a potential series clinching game six that is known today, as ”The Good Friday Massacre”. At first, it was just another hockey game. Nordiques centre Peter Štastny gave his team the lead and it remained that way as the second quarter winded down. Then as the second quarter ended, Canadiens Guy Carbonneau got into an altercation with Nordiques goalie Dan Bouchard. This prompted Quebec winger Louis Sleigher to retaliate, and just like that it sparked a brawl as players on both sides dropped their sticks and gloves. Notable flashpoints include Chris Nilan sucker punching Randy Moller, a fight between Peter Štastny and Mario Tremblay that resulted in Tremblay breaking Stastny’s nose. Then, the man who helped start it all, Louis Sleigher connected on a left hook to Jean Hamel, knocking the Canadiens defencemen unconscious.
The teams eventually go to their locker rooms but rather than eject players there and then, referee Bruce Hood let the players come back to the ice before handing out the punishments. Players who where already on the ice where ejected, and with nothing to lose at that point it was time to start fighting again. Sleigher was the centre of attention for a lot of Canadiens who wanted revenge for Hamel, meanwhile brothers Dale and Mark Hunter even ended up fighting. After the fighting was over, a hockey match eventually started again, and after Quebec took a 2-0 lead early in the third period Montreal scored five unanswered goals to eventually win the game 5-3, and the series 4-2. All said and done, a total of 252 penalty minutes where handed out and eleven players were ejected. Canadiens Jean Hamel suffered eye damage in his fight with Louis Sleigher, eventually forcing him to retire. If it wasn’t clear already, these teams hated each other.
The following season, Montreal dominated Quebec in the regular season, going 6-1-1 which was crucial as Montreal pipped Quebec to the Adams Division title by just three points. They would meet in the playoffs yet again, this time the 1985 Division finals. The series featured two overtime games in six matchups as like 1982, a deciding winner takes all game was required, with the Montreal Forum hosting game seven. Again, it would go to overtime, and again, thanks Peter Štastny, Quebec knocked out Montreal.
The 1985/86 season would again see the teams finish first and second in the Adams division, and this time it would be Quebec who finished first, winning their first-ever NHL division title. But the Nordiques lost their opening round series to Hartford 3-0, meaning there was nothing they could do as Montreal reached the Stanley Cup final. Montreal dominated the Stanley Cup final against Calgary, winning the series 4-1 and lifting their first Stanley Cup since the Nordiques entered the league. As holders, Montreal again made the playoffs in 1986/87 and after a year break, they would be reacquainted with Quebec in the playoffs. For the third time in four matchups, these two would require a winner takes all game. Montreal Forum was once again the venue, and behind a 28/31 save record from goaltender Brian Hayward, Montreal won the game 5-3 to win their first-ever win or go home playoff game against Quebec.
After four playoff ties in seven years. The nature of the rivalry changed, the Nordiques finished last in the division in 1987/88 and it got even worse the following year. In 1988/89, Montreal once again reached the Stanley Cup final, meaning, Quebec had the worst record in the national hockey league. A 8-0 win for the Canadiens over the Nordiques summarised just how dramatically the Nordiques had declined. They would finish last in the league for three consecutive season, resulting in players such as Michel Goulet and Peter Štastny being traded away. Three consecutive last place finishes did at least give them the chance to draft talented players like Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, and Eric Lindros. After Lindros refused to play for Quebec, he was traded to Philadelphia in exchange for multiple picks, financial compensation and multiple players including Peter Forsberg.
The trade transformed the struggling team seemingly overnight. In 1992/93 they finished second in the Adam’s division reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1987. Their opponents would be the third placed team, Montreal Canadiens. Quebec beat Montreal four times in the regular season, and raced into an early 2-0 lead in the playoff series. But three wins in a row, including two in overtime turned the series on its head, giving the Canadiens a chance to clinch the series in game six. Inspired by a Paul DiPietro hat trick, the Canadiens comfortably won the game 6-2, winning the series 4-2. The Canadiens would carry this momentum all the way to the Stanley Cup where they defeated the LA Kings, becoming Stanley Cup champions for the 24th time
The Nordiques where an improved hockey team, and even made the playoffs in 1994/95 as the number one seed in the eastern conference. But by this time, issues off the field where more prevalent. Higher salaries, a weak canadian dollar and the limitability of being the smallest market in the league meant that is was becoming increasingly unviable to have a professional hockey in Quebec City. Ahead of the 1995/96 season, the team was sold, and moved to Denver, becoming the Colorado Avalanche. Bringing an end to The Battle of Quebec. In somewhat of a hollow victory, the young talented core assembled by the Nordiques went on to the win the Stanley Cup in their first season in Colorado. A Stanley Cup that easily could’ve belonged to Quebec City. The final game between the two provincial rivals was a 1-1 tie at the Colisée de Québec. The professional sports rivalry within the province had ended, but all was not lost.
In 1995, there was no francophone football programs, forcing young athletes from Quebec to leave the province or attend anglophone schools in Quebec in order to compete in Canadian University Football. Enter Quebec City based Université Laval’s sports programme, Laval Rouge er Or (Laval Red and Gold), who thanks to financial backing from Jacques Tanguay, where able to establish a football programme for Laval and began play in the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (CIAU), known today as U Sports in 1996. From the beginning, Laval was a very well run football program, they became the first U Sports team to employee paid full time assistant coaches, the first to use video editing and even where able to take their players to Florida for warm weather training during spring break.
The results where almost immediate, in 1999, just the programme’s third season, they made the Vanier Cup and defeated the Saint Mary’s Huskies 14-10 to be U Sports champions. Laval won the Vanier Cup again in 2003, and by now their success was inspiring other Francophone universities to start/revive their own football programmes
One of these universities was the Universitié de Montréal, who in 2002, relaunched the Montreal Carabins football programme after a 31 year absence. By 2004, both the Rogue et Or and Carabins where the top two contenders in the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ).
That year they where the number one (Montreal) and number three (Laval) ranked teams in the country, setting up a Dunsmore Cup final between the two to determine who was the best team in the RSEQ. Despite their higher seeding, Montreal was no match for their provincial rival, losing the game 30-11. This would be the start of a decade of dominance from the Quebec City institution, from 2004-2013, the Rogue et Or and Carabins met in the RSEQ playoffs seven times, including five Dunsmore Cup finals and Laval won every single matchup. In that same time frame, Laval brought the Vanier Cup back to Quebec City six times. At this point, the Carabins where in desperate need of post season success against the Rogue et Or if they themselves where to be Vanier Cup champions.
The two sides met once in the 2014 Dunsmore Cup and where the top two ranked teams in the country. Laval hosted the game, and Montreal faced the daunting task of going into the Telus Stadium, where Laval had won their last 70 games at their home stadium. In front of 13,698 fans, a low scoring affair finished 9-9 meaning we were heading to overtime. The Carabins struck first with a field goal to take a 12-9 lead, and after the Rogue et Or missed on a field goal attempt, the win was confirmed. For the first time in eight playoff attempts, Montreal had defeated Laval, snapping their Quebec City rivals seventy home game winning streak and becoming RSEQ champions for the first time. Montreal would go on to win the 2014 Vanier Cup and after years of Laval dominance, they where finally on top.
The two sides would meet again in the 2015 Dunsmore cup again hosted in Quebec City. The game once again close, tied 16-16 with five minutes left in the 4th quarter before Montreal did just enough to pull away and win the game 18-16, proving that 2014 wasn’t a fluke and that this was indeed a competitive rivalry. Indeed since the 2013 season, the two teams have met in the Dunsmore Cup every single year (except the cancelled 2020 season).
In 2016, Laval had the chance for revenge against their rival in Montreal’s CEPSUM Stadium. In front of a capacity crowd, Montreal held a 17-13 lead with less than a minute left, but Laval had the ball at the Carabins three yard line. On a game deciding third down play, the ball was snapped directly to running back Sébastien Serré, he flipped the ball to slotback Jonathan Breton-Robert who then threw a pass to quarterback Hugo Richard who caught the balk for a touchdown, winning the game for the Rogue et Or 20-17, Laval was back on top, and they cemented it with a 2016 Vanier Cup championship.
The 2017 matchup would again be close, with Laval edging again it 25-22 thanks in no small part to their 22 first half points scored. The 2018 Dunsmore Cup would mark the third successive playoff win for Rogue et Or over the Carabins, in a low scoring yet decisive 14-1 affair on their way to more Vanier Cup success in 2018, becoming U Sports champions for the tenth time. The 2019 season marked twenty-five years since the establishment of the Laval Rogue et Or football programme, and a record crowd of 19,381 was there to witness the anniversary occasion against none other than the Montreal Carabins in a game that finished 16-3 to Laval.
But it was Montreal who had the last laugh that season in the 2019 Dunsmore Cup final. Down 16-3 in the third quarter, Laval once again turned to trickery on a fake field goal, but player of the game Marc-Antoine Dequoy intercepted the ball and ran it back 85 yards for a touchdown, effectively ending the game which finished 25-10, the largest Montreal win over Laval in a Dunsmore Cup final.
After a cancelled 2020 season, the two sides where ready to lock horns again in 2021, Montreal finished first in the RESQ division for the first time since 2016, giving them home field advantage against Laval. Running back Bertrand Beaulieu stole the show with 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns to give Montreal a 28-19 win, their first ever home Dunsmore Cup win over Laval. The two teams have utterly dominated college football in Quebec over the last eighteen years.
Since 2004 they have combined to finish first every year in the RSEQ and win every single Dunsmore Cup in that time, they have made the Vanier Cup a combined thirteen times and brought Canadian College Football’s greatest prize back to the province nine times. With Montreal winning the cup once compared to Laval’s eight in that time. Perhaps the biggest impact of the rivalry is that as of the end of 2021, there was eighteen Carabin alumni and, seventeen Rogue et Or alumni playing in the CFL, along with one former Laval in the NFL, providing a clear to professional football for francophone players in Quebec.
So here we are, the province of Quebec have had their meeting with the NHL and while nothing is impossible, a team in Quebec City isn’t on the table for the NHL at this time. But thats not to say the door is forever closed, in 2015 Quebec City opened the Vidéotron Centre, an 18,259 capacity arena that would be ready to host NHL games straight away. Quebec City and the league only have to look to the 2011 revival of the Winnipeg Jets for proof a small market Canadian team could work in todays NHL.
There is still a lot of love for the Nordiques, Quebec Nordiques merchandise can still be purchased from the NHL online store today and there is plenty of reminders of the team throughout the province with people who wear Nordiques branding. It’s not a guarantee that a team in Quebec City would increased hockey participation in the province and or Quebec representation in the NHL, but what is almost a certainty is that it would be great for the league to revive the Battle of Quebec. Until that day, we still have a captivating and highly competitive rivalry between the two cities to enjoy in college football, as Montreal and Quebec City continue to battle it out in one of Canada’s best sporting rivalries.
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