International Hockey League (1996-1998)
Born: May 1, 1996 – The Atlanta Knights relocate to Quebec City
Folded: Postseason 1998
Arena: Le Colisee de Quebec (15,399)
The Quebec Rafales were a short-lived entry in the International Hockey League, an aggressive, big budget minor league going through a growth spurt in the mid-1990’s. The Rafales headlined at Le Colisee de Quebec for two winters from 1996 to 1998. “Rafales” means cold gust in French and the team’s mascot, prominently featured on this inaugural season media guide, was a Yeti character snowboarding on a hockey stick.
The club began life as the Atlanta Knights (1992-1996) of the IHL under the ownership of David Berkman, a real estate baron and hockey fanatic from Atlanta. Berkman pulled the Knights out of Atlanta in May of 1996 due to a lease impasse and the impending demolition of the Omni arena. The 15,400-seat Colisee de Quebec was available due to the departure of the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques a year earlier for greener pastures in Denver, Colorado. So the Knights became the Rafales and attempted to fill the pro hockey void for broken hearted Nordiques fans.
Berkman’s long-held dream of owning an NHL franchise himself never came to fruition, although he did make an offer on that league’s Tampa Bay Lightning club in 1997 shortly after the Rafales completed their first IHL season in Quebec. Instead, Berkman owned several minor league hockey clubs and Arena Football teams during the 1990’s and early 2000’s with partners Richard Adler and Charles Felix. His two-year IHL adventure in Quebec City was the only time he operated a club outside his Southeastern U.S. base of operations.
As the Rafales’ first season dawned in October 1996, the club publicly flirted with NHL defenseman Chris Simon, a former Nordique and a holdout at the time from the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. The rumored signing drew some light press attention across North America, but Simon never did join the Rafales. Instead, the team’s highest profile player was tough defenseman Bob Sweeney, who spent the bulk of his decade-long NHL career with the Boston Bruins.
Late in the Rafales’ sophomore season, in March of 1998, the club began aggressively shedding payroll in a series of trades with their IHL rivals. Berkman and Adler had had enough of the IHL and Quebec City. A local investor group led by Michel Page attempted to purchase and save the club, but the deal fell through in early August 1998 and the Rafales folded after just two seasons.
Le Colisee de Quebec still stands and is known today as Colisee Pepsi. However, it has not had a pro sports tenant since the Rafales departed in 1998.
The IHL folded in 2001.