Au Revoir, Le Colisee: Coupe Memorial 2015

18 May 2018

When I started my quest to see a game in every NHL arena, I also hoped to see as many games in some of the older arenas which previously hosted NHL franchises.  In most cases, this would be due to the team moving to a newer building and keeping their previous arena open - but there were also a few markets in which the NHL team relocated.  Such was the case with Quebec City.

After entertaining hockey fans for over 20 years in both the WHA and NHL, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, leaving the city - and its historic arena, Le Colisee - devoid of the highest level of professional hockey.  A minor league team would quickly move into the vacated building for the following season, before giving way in 1999 to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).  That year also saw the naming rights purchased by a large soda company, with the arena being re-named Colisee Pepsi.

While researching the "defunct" NHL arenas, I learned that Le Colisee would be closing its doors for good in 2015, after more than 65 years of serving Quebec City with various sporting events and concerts.  The new state-of-the-art Videotron Centre was set to open right next door with the hope of luring a new NHL franchise back to the province, but the legendary venue was given a very prominent swan song: hosting the MasterCard Memorial Cup (or Coupe Memorial, as the French-speaking locals called it), the trophy awarded to the ultimate winner of the Canadian Hockey League.

The round-robin tournament would feature the champions of the CHL's three individual leagues - the Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the QMJHL - as well as the host Remparts, and was to be held during the last ten days of May.  The opening weekend of the tournament coincided with the Memorial Day holiday, so I planned a four-day vacation in order to see every team in action over the course of three games.  I even found an Airbnb that was walking distance from Le Colisee!


After a non-stop flight to Montreal and a three-hour drive to Quebec City, I was fairly exhausted when I arrived late on Saturday night - I had every intention of relaxing during the evening, until I was contacted by a friend who asked if I wanted to meet up at a bar.  But it wasn't just anybody, it was Jeff Marek, the fantastic sportscaster who would be covering the Memorial Cup tournament for Sportsnet.  We had exchanged messages on Twitter earlier in the spring, and he told me to look him up when I made it to Quebec - now I was on my way to Pub St-Alexandre in the historic downtown district.

Jeff was still working on his postgame broadcast, so I had plenty of time to kill while I waited - it was refreshing to see hockey games on every TV inside, and one of the locals even offered to buy me a drink after he saw me sitting alone for such a long time.  Soon enough, Jeff arrived along with fellow Sportsnet host John Shannon, as well as two more wonderful hockey fans from Ontario - Carroll and Kat (I've since visited both of them on separate road trips) - and the five of us spent the next couple of hours talking hockey while listening to some live music.  It was a great way to kick off the trip!

Mr. Marek and I


The first of my three games would take place the following afternoon, as the Remparts would face off against the OHL Champion Oshawa Generals in a Sunday matinee.  The pre-game festivities were top notch, with a tribute to the members of the military, as well as a ceremony to honor the Remparts team that won the Memorial Cup in 2006.

The game started and the excitement level was at a fever pitch, as the home fans watched with nervous tension.  It was a back-and-forth contest, which saw Quebec take a 3-2 lead into the final moments, only to have Oshawa tie the game with just over two minutes remaining.  Overtime would await the weary combatants...

After an intermission period which seemingly lasted forever, I was treated to some of the most exciting hockey I'd ever seen: 18 minutes of non-stop action, with the crowd holding their collective breath at every moment.  Though the air would come out of the room slightly when Oshawa scored the game-winner, we all knew we'd witnessed something special, and I couldn't wait to come back the next day.

Champion, the Remparts mascot, was one of the best I've seen at working a crowd!
I quickly discovered that much of the buzz in the arena on Sunday had been due to fans cheering on their home team - the Memorial Day matchup between QMJHL Champion Rimouski Oceanic and the WHL's Kelowna Rockets was not nearly as action-packed, and the upper deck of the Le Colisee was closed off due to the smaller attendance.  Nevertheless, I managed to see as much of the building as possible while also getting to watch a very fun game.  Rimouski was no match for the high-powered Kelowna offense, as they managed to pump SEVEN goals past the Oceanic goalies.  Highly-touted Edmonton Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl would lead the way, scoring twice and assisting on another, giving the Rockets their first win of the tournament.

Leon Draisaitl (#29) celebrates one of the many Kelowna goals on the evening
The best part of the night was seeing Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy sitting in a luxury suite directly behind me.  The one-time coach and general manager of the Remparts, Roy was now serving as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, and was in attendance for nearly every game of the Memorial Cup.  After nervously trying to come up with a plan to introduce myself throughout the evening, I finally found the time to say hello once the game had completed - and he couldn't have been nicer!

My final game on Tuesday featured the victorious teams from the previous days, as the Oshawa Generals and Kelowna Rockets squared off in a tightly-contested defensive struggle.  It was a very ho-hum game, and I wound up leaving before it was over - thankfully I did, as a thunderstorm rolled in just as I arrived at home.  Oshawa wound up winning the game 2-1, but the highlight of the evening was a pregame ceremony honoring Patrick Roy:

Of course, my trip wouldn't be complete without getting a picture with the mascot (CHAMPION!!!) and buying some cool memorabilia - in this case, a sweet puck with a "poppy" design, featuring the logos of the participating teams.



Manoir Montmorency, just above the waterfall
There was a lot of down time while I waited for each game, so I took it upon myself to visit three notable landmarks in the area:

A majestic waterfall located just outside the city limits, Montmorency Falls was the perfect way to kick off my exploration.  I walked around the grounds for several hours, crossing a long suspension bridge, descending a giant staircase and taking pictures from as many angles as I could.


Every trip to Quebec City HAS to include a visit to the historic downtown district known as "Old Quebec".  Situated atop Cap Diamant for hundreds of years, the area honors its military history by preserving some of the cannons surrounding the fortress overlooking the St. Lawrence River.  Tourism reigns supreme, due to the centuries-old architecture and cobblestone paths that line the streets.


After more than a decade of living and working in the bustling city of Los Angeles, I used this vacation as a way to relax and de-stress: unwinding at a beautiful national park on my final day in Quebec was perfectly ideal.  I became one with nature as I spent nearly a full day hiking through the winding trails, and relaxing at the various scenic overlooks.


Mere days after my departure, the final hockey game was played at Le Colisee as the Oshawa Generals defeated Kelowna to capture the Memorial Cup.  The championship game was decided in overtime, with Anthony Cirelli (who would be drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning one month later) netting the game-winner:

In September, a virtual "passing of the torch" would take place, as Metallica played back-to-back concerts in the city: the first night was the final event held at Le Colisee, and the second night was the first-ever concert at Videotron Centre.

But what does the future hold?  It was a real treat to see high-level hockey at the grand old building, but now I need to make plans for a return visit in order to see the new arena up close.  At least it looks pretty cool from the outside!

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