International Ice Hockey Federation

Neighbourly dispute

Neighbourly dispute

Swiss-French rivalry burning hotter

Published 09.05.2017 20:43 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Neighbourly dispute
Switzerland's Mark Streit and French forward Teddy Da Costa battle for the puck in the nations' last encounter during the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
On paper, the rivalry between Switzerland and France might not look like much. In practice, it’s getting tighter and tighter.

Unquestionably, the well-disciplined Swiss still hold the edge. They won silver at the 2013 Worlds – a feat France hasn’t come close to matching – and they export more players to the NHL. They hold an all-time record of 10 wins and four losses against France at the Worlds, dating back to 1934.

However, nowadays the French are coming on strong. Gutsy and resilient, they made the quarter-finals in 2014 and matched their modern-day best finish of eighth place. Les Bleus have also upset giants like Canada, Russia and Finland in the last five years, and would like nothing better than to add Switzerland to their list of victims on 9 May, 2017 in Paris.

Let’s take a quick back at the last seven World Championship clashes between these two neighbours in the new millennium. There’s an extra layer of intrigue since many of the key names over the last 17 years are still in action in 2017.

1 May 2000: France 4, Switzerland 2

When France upset Switzerland in a chippy affair at the Worlds in Russia, the IIHF web site reported with classical flair: “The strains of the Marseillaise have been heard in St. Petersburg, and it was more than a snatch from Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.”

The French were bound for 15th place and relegation, while the Swiss would finish sixth. But this would prove to be the high point of the tournament for Les Bleus.

“We knew we had nothing to lose and we fought like crazy,” said French captain Arnaud Briand, who stepped up with two goals and an assist. “It was a big, big game for us.”

25 April 2004: Switzerland 6, France 0

This was France’s second straight 6-0 defeat at the Worlds in the Czech Republic, the first one coming against Austria. Their frustration was palpable as the Swiss ran up the score. Ivo Ruthemann led the attack with two goals and two assists.

After allowing the sixth goal with less than 14 minutes left, French goalie Cristobal Huet came out of the net in a huff, and was replaced by Fabrice Lhenry. Again, the French would be relegated. But their program would start to turn around the following year with the hiring of coach Dave Henderson, who still holds the reins today.

3 May 2008: Switzerland 4, France 1

The French had a rough ride against their rivals in their return to the top division in Quebec City. Even when Switzerland’s Andres Ambuhl took a four-minute double minor for high-sticking French captain Laurent Meunier and drawing blood, Les Bleus couldn’t cash in on the ensuing 5-on-3 man advantage. Huet faced 44 shots in the French net, but couldn’t hold back the tide forever. Patrick Bartschi racked up three points in the Swiss win.

“We played against the Swiss in February and lost 5-2, so we knew they’d have a good team,” said coach Henderson. “Having just been promoted from Division I, we knew we didn’t have the experience to compete on this level. We came here looking for experience.”

24 April 2009: Switzerland 1, France 0

Clearly, the gap had narrowed when Switzerland hosted the 2009 tournament. In the opening game in Berne in front of a capacity crowd of 11,417, the Swiss struggled to find their form. However, a Martin Pluss goal and a Martin Gerber shutout gave the hosts their desired result. The Swiss would finish ninth on home ice and France 12th.

29 April 2011: Switzerland 1, France 0 (OT)

Once again, Switzerland and France faced each other to kick off the Worlds, this time in the Slovakian city of Kosice. The score was the same as in 2009, but this time it took a Julien Vauclair goal at 1:46 of overtime to lift the Swiss to victory. He split the defensive pairing of Yohann Auvitu and Sacha Treille before scoring on Huet from close range.

The game was interrupted early in the third period with a power outage – perhaps a metaphor for the difficulty both sides had in turning on the red light.

12 May 2012: France 4, Switzerland 2

It was the first French win over Switzerland in 12 years, and it came on the back of Cristobal Huet. He made 41 saves, just two years after becoming the firste Frenchman to win the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Besides Huet’s heroics, the decisive factor was two French power play goals by Laurent Meunier and Stephane Da Costa with Swiss defenceman Goran Bezina serving a major for checking to the head.

“They got a five-minute power play and scored two goals, and we couldn’t react. They just sat back. Their goalie played unbelievably well. You have to give them credit. We didn’t play well enough tonight,” said Swiss captain Mark Streit.

3 May 2015: Switzerland 3, France 1

The last time these two sides met, it was the second game of the tournament for both of them, and the Swiss bounced back after an upset 4-3 shootout loss to Austria, while France took its second straight loss after falling 2-1 to Germany.

The IIHF site called this Swiss victory “nasty, bitter, and rough.” The French alone took 65 minutes in penalties, and Stephane Da Costa left the game with a knee injury. Roman Josi scored the eventual winner early in the third period. Overall, Switzerland would finish eighth and France 12th.


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