The mid-90s were a difficult time for professional hockey in Canada. The original Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix to become the Coyotes, the Montreal Canadiens were struggling financially, and the Quebec Nordiques packed up their bags in la Vieille Capitale and moved to the Mile High City in 1995 to become the Avalanche. When Le fleur-de-lysée moved, with it died a 22-year history of players who adorned the famous igloo logo of the WHA and the NHL, starting with the First Nordique, Montreal Canadiens defector Jean-Claude Tremblay.
Seeing as it’s been over 20 years since the Nordiques ceased to exist, one would assume that the lineage of the team has as well, as all players from the 1994-95 Quebec Nordiques are retired, as are the players from their farm team Cornwall Aces, including one future GM of the New York Islanders, Garth Snow.
But there is one other place to look for completion’s sake, and that is prospects in the organization acquired through the draft. There you will in fact find a single solitary player who can still lay claim to the Nordiques lineage who is still playing professional hockey: David Ling.
Although Ling never did actually wear the Nordiques jersey in a regular-season game, he can lay claim to belonging to the organization as he was drafted by the Nordiques in the seventh round, 179th overall, of the 1993 entry draft.
At the well-travelled age of 43, he continues to play as a member of the Brampton Beast in the ECHL.
“I still have my draft jersey, and just when I look at it it’s kinda weird because the team is not there anymore,” said Ling. “I’ve been playing a long time and a lot of people in the new generation don’t even know who the Nordiques are. When people ask ‘who were you drafted by?’ I giggle a bit each time at the reactions.”
Ling attended training camp twice with the Nordiques: 1993 and 1994.
“I came close to making it one year,” he said. But ultimately he was sent back to the Kingston Frontenacs both times to complete his junior career. His rights moved to Colorado with the rest of the team, but the night before the 1995 draft the Avalanche traded him to Calgary, ending his two-year stint with the Nordiques organization.
There was a brief time earlier this season when the honour at hand of the Last Nordique was briefly held by another member of the 1993 cohort: Anders Myrvold.
Nobody would hold it against you if the name is unfamiliar. Myrvold was drafted two rounds ahead of Ling, 127th overall, and came up through the Nordiques system playing for the Aces, and eventually played four games with the Colorado Avalanche before beginning a journeyman career with time spent in the AHL, Europe, as well as brief stints with the Boston Bruins, Islanders, and Detroit Red Wings.
He moved permanently back home to Norway for the 2004-05 season where he played in the top league, but a substance abuse problem and eventual jail time led to his retirement at the end of the 2010-11 season.
In a feel-good story he did turn his life around and works as a personal trainer in his home country. This past summer he trained hard and made a return after six years to pro hockey. He played a single game before announcing that he was retiring for good, this time on his own terms.
But for that one game, while David Ling was uncertain of his future and starting a career in home appraisals, Myrvold was the Last Nordique.
The honour now resides once again with Ling, who does admit that his career is winding down, but he might never consider himself retired, even if he wasn’t sure if he would get a chance to play again this season.
“I never say yes or no, because the last five years I would have been a liar. I let it play out.”
Sure enough Brampton ended up calling Ling in January when defenceman Jordan Henry went down to injury and a veteran slot opened up.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I try to stay in shape all the time anyway. I have a good relationship with [head coach Colin Chaulk]. I know I’m a phone call away, and he knows that I will never say no.”
Since rejoining the team, Ling has played nine games, collecting six points, and adding valuable experience to the locker room. It’s unknown whether Ling will continue to play after Henry returns, and his status as the last active professional hockey player with ties to the Nordiques hangs by a thread. But for the immediate present, the title is his, made better by his love for the game.
“I said to the boys the other day: The real world sucks, the reason I come to play is because I love to play. I love the game.”
As to whether anyone from the Nordiques revival effort to bring the team back to the city made any connection that he remained active, and perhaps could play an interesting role in being a link to the past should the city ever get their team back, he grinned bemusedly and replied: “There are a lot more important people, people with more points, than me.”
But as Bartolo Colon has his claim to being the last active former Montreal Expo, (and wouldn’t it be cool to see him wear an Expos jersey again for the sake of continuity?), David Ling is that person for the Nordiques. However hopes are fading for a city to be able to tap into that link, having done everything right to get their team back, but sitting helplessly watching as Las Vegas, and now Seattle, take turns jumping the queue into the NHL.