Tuesday 1 June 2010

National Film Board Stunner

If you've been reading this blog for some time now, you know that I'm a pretty big fan of the Quebec Nordiques. A lot of that is due to their gorgeous uniforms, and I'll maintain until I'm in the grave that they are the only NHL team that can wear that shade of blue and not be questioned for it. While the Nordiques never experienced the thrill of raising the Stanley Cup, they do have one WHA Avco Cup, won in 1977, to their name, and they had a number of excellent players roll through Quebec City: Joe Sakic, Guy Lafleur, Peter Stastny, and Peter Forsberg to name just a few.

You may also note, if you're a frequent reader, that I'm a sucker for hockey history. While the game has long been a mainstay in Canada, there's a lot of history that has either been left in the past or simply forgotten over time. In the case of the WHA, the NHL doesn't even recognize that it existed, let alone survived for seven years in competition with the NHL. Because of the NHL's unwillingness to recognize anything WHA, most of the WHA's history has been left behind.

Thanks to the National Film Board of Canada, we get to mesh two of my favorite things together today. Pierre Letarte, a French Canadian filmmaker, captured the Quebec Nordiques before their first WHA game in the history of their franchise in 1972in his film called "Just Another Job". There are some notable people that you see, but one of the most famous faces is the Nordiques' first head coach. That man is Maurice "The Rocket" Richard. Quebec would play against the Cleveland Crusaders in Ohio in their first WHA game, and we get to see the moments leading up to that historic first game.

The film is just over 27 minutes long, but I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed it. It's really worth the time, so, if you're reading this at work, watch it when you get home. I can't stress how good it is. Enjoy, and I'll continue after the film!

I'll admit that the intro in the movie is a little campy, but it's very 1970s. All in all, the story of the Nordiques is actually quite interesting.

The franchise was originally awarded to a group in San Francisco, and the team was named the "Sharks". Prior to opening the season, the group's funding fell apart, and the franchise was quickly sold to a group of six Quebec City-based businessmen, the same men who owned the highly successful Quebec Remparts junior franchise. One of those men, Paul Racine, spoke in the film as the President of the Quebec Nordiques.

Some things I noticed in the film? Check the forearm protection offered by the old gloves. The players didn't have to worry about a slash on the forearm because their gloves extended all the way to their elbows.

During the player's interview at the nine-minute mark, you can clearly see smoke rising in front of the camera. I believe that would be Maurice Richard's cigarette burning in an ashtray on the desk as he sat on the right side of the camera. That's right: smoking was still pretty accepted everywhere those days, and even more so in Francophone society.

The first game action seen is against the Philadelphia Blazers in their yellow-and-orange uniforms. That was from the WHA preseason. The strange part is that both teams are in their road uniforms. The Blazers wore yellow at home, while the Nordiques wore white at home. Colour-on-colour in hockey? Hardly heard of back in those times.

I loved the interview with the young man who designed the logo and uniforms. Honestly, the blue-and-dark-blue colour combo would have looked fantastic in my opinion, but the franchise wanted red. Once the Nordiques joined the NHL, eventually the only red would be seen on the logo.

Catch the numbers on the sides of the skates? That seemed to happen a lot in hockey in the 1970s. Why? I assume it was for the equipment manager to ensure that everyone's skates remained in pairs. Or for the players when they came to retrieve them.

Jean-Claude Tremblay, shown standing on the blueline and receiving a standing ovation, would be Quebec's most dynamic player in the 1972-73 season. Wearing number three and sporting the captain's "C", Tremblay would end up leading the Nordiques in scoring as a defenceman, putting up 89 points on the strength of 14 goals and a WHA-leading 75 assists.

Maurice Richard would surprisingly only coach two games, stepping down after leading his team to a win and a loss. Richard stated he wasn't comfortable as the coach, and resigned just two weeks into the WHA season, as stated in the film. Cleveland defeated the Nordiques by a 2-0 score on October 11, 1972 in the season-opener.

The Nordiques would get their first goal and win when they returned home for the home-opener against the Alberta Oilers on October 13. Normand Lacombe, a defensive defenceman, scored his first WHA goal, and went into the record books as the first player to score for the Quebec Nordiques. Quebec would go on to win their home-opener by a 6-0 score over the Oilers. Maurice Filion would be named head coach before their October 19 game against the New England Whalers.

Celebrating at the season's end wouldn't happen. The Nordiques missed the playoffs that first season, finishing with a 33-40-5 record for 71 points, three points back of the Ottawa Nationals for the fourth spot in the WHA's Eastern Division. Their fifth-place finish left the Nordiques on the sidelines as the playoffs began.

All in all, a very excellent look at one of the WHA's founding franchises. I really like the National Film Board of Canada's archives, and will bring more films to this blog as we progress through the summer months. This one, however, holds a special place on this blog.

There's nothing better than a night of hockey history.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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