Vincent Cauchon called it a mission, though perhaps it's more of a vision quest.
Cut off from a pro hockey team for 15 years, Cauchon and 1,100 members of Nordiques Nation - the group of disenfranchised fans that cropped up after the Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche - will pile into 22 charter buses Saturday and make the more than nine-hour trip to Nassau Coliseum to see the Islanders take on the Thrashers.
The message will be simple: the market that lost its team to league-wide financial crisis in 1995 is all grown up and ready to sustain an NHL team of its own.
"We chose to make the trip to show the NHL that we are larger as a group than some of the crowds that can enjoy their own hockey teams," said event organizer Cauchon, a sports radio personality for CHOI-FM Radio X in Quebec. "We don't want to look like picking up a team and bringing it back to Quebec. We're hockey fans."
The members of his group are indeed a very specific breed of hockey fan. After losing the Nordiques, the group slowly mobilized, starting a website, gathering thousands of members and eventually putting together events such as an Oct. 2 "Blue March" that attracted more than 50,000 Nordiques supporters.
Saturday's event, which Cauchon organized three months ago, sold all 1,100 spots in six hours. The bus fare, ticket and hotel stay comes out to about $200 per person. There could have been more people, "but we ran out of buses," Cauchon said.
Even more so than the Islanders, who attracted only 7,773 fans to their last home game and are averaging a league-worst 10,770 at the Coliseum, it's the Atlanta Thrashers that the group has in its sights.
"They live in a big market that doesn't care about hockey," Cauchon said. "[Nik] Antropov and Dustin Byfuglien need 18,000 people cheering for them."
Both Cauchon and Sebastien Julien, a member of Nordiques Nation who will be making the trip, said they'd like to see the Islanders stay in New York, showing a hockey fan's deference to the 1980-1983 Stanley Cup dynasty teams.
The group will hit Manhattan for a few hours of sight-seeing this morning and is expected to arrive at its six New York, New Jersey and Long Island hotels at 3 p.m. Nordiques Nation will descend upon Nassau Coliseum at 6 p.m. and take up two sections of about 30 rows each behind each net.
Cauchon said the event will be "gentle and classy" and in the spirit of a group of people who love the game and want a piece of it back.
"The economy in Canada . . . is very encouraging," Cauchon said. "There's this positive vibe. We can build something . . . We would take an American Hockey League team and make it into an NHL team. We don't care.
"[Nordiques Nation] lost what was important. They're sure they can have them back. That's the beauty of it."
With Katie Strang
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