Nordique Nation makes itself known in Coliseum

A Quebec-based group named Nordique Nation cheers inside

A Quebec-based group named Nordique Nation cheers inside the Nassau Coliseum during the NHL hockey game between the Atlanta Thrashers and the New York Islanders. (Dec. 11, 2010) (Credit: AP)

A 22-bus fleet carried about 1,100 fans calling themselves the "Nordiques Nation" to Nassau Coliseum last night, a mission to express their desire for the return of an NHL team to Quebec.

The Canadians - who split and flanked the upper decks behind both nets - held a boisterous pre-game demonstration to to show that their passion for another team deserves the league's attention.

Financial struggles forced their beloved Quebec Nordiques to relocate to Colorado back in 1995, but their fervent fandom has not ceased.

"Fifteen years ago our team was sent to Colorado, so we're here to get them back. We're just trying to show that we deserve a team. We're trying to send a message to the league and to Gary Bettman," said 29-year-old Olivier Lettre, of Trois Rivieres, Quebec.

Their demonstration comes at a time when the Islanders seem to be hitting rock bottom - ranking 29th in attendance and facing the death of the team owner Charles Wang's massive plan for a new arena, the Lighthouse Project.

And there was the Islanders 19th loss in their last 20 games, a come-from-behind 5-4 win for the Atlanta Thrashers. Blake Comeau scored the Islanders' first power-play goal in 47 chances at 18:44 of the third. The Islanders had gone 12 straight games without scoring on the power play.

Addressing the media before the game, general manager Garth Snow said there was "nothing new to report," in the Islanders pursuit of a new facility.

"We're here through 2015 and we're going to honor the lease," said Snow, who was drafted by the Nordiques back in 1987.

Members of Nordiques Nation stressed that they were not specifically targeting the Islanders. The Thrashers are struggling with attendance, too. Coupled with Atlanta's lack of hockey tradition, the Thrashers may be more susceptible to a relocation pitch.

"This is not meant to be anything bad about the Islanders, but we just want to show that we want a team in Quebec," said Caroline Matte, 35, of Quebec City.

"It was just the closest place we could find a game between two teams that are both struggling," Lettre said.

The proximity to Long Island (Quebec City is about a nine-hour drive from Uniondale) and the Nassau Coliseum's over-abundance of empty seats (the team entered last night averaging 10,770, better only than the Phoenix Coyotes), made last night's contest an ideal location to stage their event.

"We want to go to Nassau Coliseum because they have a lot of empty seats," Nordiques Nation member Sebastian Julien said.

The Islanders have drawn less than 10,000 fans on four occasions this season and have not had a sellout (16,234).

"There are a lot of variables that go into the attendance. It isn't there right now and obviously winning is a big part of that," Snow said before the game. "There are other ingredients, as well a tough economy and so on. We need to win hockey games and get them back in the building."

Islanders fan James Lombardo, 26, of Floral Park, said he wasn't bothered by the gathering of the Islanders' northern neighbors. Instead, he hoped it would create some buzz sorely lacking in previous weeks.

"There's never anyone here so it should be pretty cool - for the atmosphere - to have more people and some noise," Lombardo said.

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