International Ice Hockey Federation

France makes history!

Hardy, Roussel shine in first win ever vs. Finns

Published 07.05.2017 19:23 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
France makes history!
PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 7: France's Valentin Claireaux #12 celebrates after scoring against Finland during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
With a gritty, thrilling effort, host France upset Finland 5-1 on Sunday in Paris. It is the first French win over Finland in IIHF World Championship history.

In 2013, Florian Hardy backstopped France to a 2-1 stunner over Russia. The veteran EC Dornbirn goalie sparkled again here as Finland outshot the French 43-26, including a 20-6 gap in the third period. When Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was named France's Player of the Game, he insisted that Hardy take his place, to the absolute delight of the crowd.

"Our goalie was outstanding today, and that was the difference," said Kevin Hecquefeuille.

Skilled agitator Antoine Roussel paced the attack with two goals, including the second-period winner, and Bellemare chipped in a goal and an assist. Valentin Claireaux and Damien Fleury scored the other goals, and Anthony Rech had three helpers.

"We were in good spirits the whole game," said Roussel. "We kept it simple and took care of the small details today. Everyone worked hard. We have to keep this mentality going if we want to keep winning games."

Mikko Lehtonen replied for Finland. The loss revives pre-tournament fears that coach Lauri Marjamaki's team might not be able to score enough -- especially compared to last year's high-flying silver medal squad (37 goals in 10 games).

"They put pressure on us for 60 minutes and their goalie played well, but we didn't play as well as we can," said Finland's Sebastian Aho.

Previously, France had lost eight straight games to Finland, dating back to 1993. But the French are defeating more top nations in recent years. They also edged Canada 3-2 in a shootout to open the 2014 tournament in Belarus.

This is a huge boost for France's quarter-final hopes. The win was particularly impressive since France played without forward Stephane Da Costa, who scored both French goals in the opening 3-2 loss to Norway but is battling the flu. The Finns went without captain Lasse Kukkonen, who has a hand injury and has returned to Finland for evaluation.

The hosts struggled early on. They didn’t register a shot on goal for nearly six minutes. They also took back-to-back penalties, including a misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct to Roussel after an exchange with Finland’s Atte Ohtamaa.

But the tide turned, and the French began to attack with speed. Bellemare opened the scoring at 14:17. With Finnish defenders collapsing on top of netminder Joonas Korpisalo, he harnessed a loose puck in front and roofed it. Tricolour flags waved everywhere as the packed AccorHotels Arena erupted.

"I'm sure they got some extra energy from the crowd," said Aho. "It was a great atmosphere."

Marjamaki's boys got a two-man advantage to close the period as Maurin Bouvet and Antonin Manavian took consecutive stick fouls. But there was nothing doing. Mikko Rantanen rang one off the iron, while Jordan Perret hobbled off after a gutsy shot-block.

"We blocked shots, had an excellent PK today," Roussel said. "It was huge."

With 18 seconds left in the opening stanza, Hardy made a dazzling Dominik Hasek-style save on Oskar Osala, flinging out his stick when the Finnish forward fired on a wide-open net. Osala raised his arms, sure he’d scored, but Hardy gathered the puck into his body with his blocker hand, and video review confirmed it never crossed the goal line. It was the save of the tournament so far.

At 1:33 of the second period, the Finns tied it up on Lehtonen’s blast from the blue line through traffic. In another era, they would have proceeded to take over the game.

Yet France regained the lead at 13:58. Bellemare stole the puck from Aho at centre ice and raced in to fire a high slapper. Korpisalo couldn’t control the rebound and Roussel banged it in.

With 1:11 left in the second period, France went up 3-1 on the power play. Standing in front, Claireaux redirected Jonathan Janil’s drive from the left point past the goalie.

Jesse Puljujarvi, the 19-year-old forward who keyed Finland to gold at both the World Juniors and U18 tournament last year, finally hit the ice in the third period after sitting on the bench during the opening 3-2 win over Belarus and the first two periods here. The big Edmonton Oilers prospect generated some excitement, but, unfortunately, no offence.

Roussel gave the French an insurmountable 4-1 lead when he got a breakaway from the French blueline and tucked a backhand between Korpisalo's pads at 8:27 of the third.

With Roussel in the box again -- he took 14 PIM on the night -- Marjamaki gambled, yanking Korpisalo for the extra attacker with over five minutes left. The move backfired when Fleury added an empty-netter at 17:49. The building shook as the French fans jumped up and down, shouting with pure joie de vivre.

"The atmosphere in the arena was something special today," said Hecquefeuille. "It's so fun to play at home in front of our families and friends and our fans. We don't feel the pressure. We want to enjoy this championship in France."

In the not-so-distant past, Finland had a pronounced influence on French hockey. Juhani Tamminen coached France at the 1995 and 1996 World Championships, while Heikki Leime held the reins at the 2002 Olympics and 2004 Worlds. Goaltender Petri Ylonen was a mainstay at the 1992 and 1994 Olympics and five Worlds.

But today, the French program leans on homegrown talent. And what a triumph this was in the city of the Arc de Triomphe.