The three musketeers

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

QUEBEC CITY -- You can't play in Texas without a fiddler in the band. And you can't play in Quebec City with only three French Canadians in the line-up?

No, says Simon Gagne, he doesn't think that's it. He doesn't think that's the reason fewer than 5,000 tickets had been sold to tonight's Canada-U.S. game on the road to the IIHF Worlds Cup of Hockey.

"We only have three guys," he said of himself, Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo, who will share goaltending duties tonight.

"At the World Cup we had six or seven guys. I think Quebec is proud of the country and the team but would like to see some more players from here. At the Olympics in Salt Lake, we only had three - me, Mario and Marty," he said of Lemieux and Brodeur being the others.

"They would like to watch more faces from Quebec and Montreal, but those guys are hurt now," he said of Vinnie Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, etc.

But no, says the former Quebec Rempart who practised under a banner with his name and number in Les Colisee here yesterday. He doesn't think that's it.

So maybe it's the combination of a city spurned by the NHL due essentially to rising salaries, which has now taken us to the lockout and the animosity toward players which exists all over the country. But, no, says Gagne, who lives in Quebec City when he isn't playing in Philadelphia, he doesn't think that's it either.

Gagne grew up on the Nordiques.

CHEERING FOR STASTNY

"I was 14 when they left. I grew up cheering for Peter Stastny," he said, saying it's amazing he'll be playing against his son Yan with the Americans tonight.

"I ended up cheering for Joe Sakic and a new generation. Every morning you'd go to school and talk about the Nordiques. Then they left and won the Stanley Cup in Colorado the next year. It's something still missing from Quebec. It still hurts on that. People here are still missing the NHL."

But he doesn't think that, or the lockout, is really the reason either. So what is it then?

"I think it's that people are not used to paying so much to go to a game here anymore," he said of the $65-$45 ticket prices.

This city that once played host to Rendezvous '87, the spectacular Canada-Russia series which replaced the NHL All-Star Game that year, is back to being a junior hockey town - one which filled all 15,399 seats here last week to watch the Remparts in the playoffs.

SPECIAL FOR ME

"They watch the juniors play for 15 bucks. People are not used to paying that kind of money now." Even to watch Simon Gagne?

"I don't know if it's so special for Quebec but its special for me to come back here. It was six years ago I played here," said the guy who played on a line with Lemieux and Jarome Iginla at the Olympics, on a line with Lecavalier and St. Louis at the World Cup and played with Brendan Morrison and Dany Heatley in Halifax Wednesday.

Gagne has become a staple player for Team Canada. A lot of people were surprised when Wayne Gretzky picked him to play in 2002. But now he's an automatic.

"It's fun to be part of the family of Team Canada now. It's easy to say 'yes' to Canada now. I feel very welcome. Before the Olympics I had a big year but I didn't feel I had a big chance because of all the names," he said of players with higher profiles Gretzky chose him ahead of.

"I think I grew up on that," he said of being a member of that team.

Team Canada knew they'd found a player who was perfect for the big ice and the international game.

"I love international hockey with no red line and the big ice. It's a fun game to play. The problem in the NHL is there is no ice to make some plays now," said the player who says until they face the fact they have to find a way to make the ice surfaces bigger, they'll just be fooling around and fooling themselves about what's really wrong.

Maybe that's it, too. Maybe Quebec City has come to the realization a hockey game isn't worth $65 anymore.


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