International Ice Hockey Federation

France’s big chance

France’s big chance

Will Paris ice be nice for hosts?

Published 01.05.2017 11:25 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
France’s big chance
Host France, a founding IIHF member in 1908, would love to grab a quarter-final berth as it last did in 2014. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
When Paris last hosted the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in 1951, France had to play in the B-Pool. This time, Les Bleus are legitimate threats.

France sits 14th in the IIHF World Ranking and has appeared in the elite division every year since 2008. Under long-time coach Dave Henderson, France’s results have ranged from eighth in 2014 to 14th three times (2008, 2010, 2016). It’s impressive for a country where hockey’s popularity is still developing: there are 135 rinks and 8,615 registered male players.

The national team benefits from the cohesion and relentless work ethic of its established regulars, but France is starting to develop more young talent as well. At the 14,500-capacity AccorHotels Arena, the hosts will get a unique opportunity to lift their nation’s spirits at the world’s largest annual winter sports event.


Cristobal Huet, the grand old man of French goaltending, will enjoy his last international hurrah between the pipes in Paris. The 41-year-old, who won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010, is coming off a strong season with Lausanne of the Swiss NLA (40 GP, 2.47 GAA, 91.9 save percentage). As long as his recent knee surgery isn’t a hindrance, Huet will likely carry the load once again. Back-ups Florian Hardy and Ronan Quemener both saw spot duty last year. Hardy, who will suit up for Angers next season, earned fame in 2013 when he backstopped France to a 2-1 shocker over defending champion Russia. The French goalies must steal a game or two for their team to succeed.


At age 27, Yohann Auvitu is in his prime. This year, he became the only French defenceman ever to make the NHL, scoring two goals and two assists in 25 games in his first season with the New Jersey Devils. Since the Albany Devils have been eliminated from the AHL playoffs, Auvitu will be a valuable addition to France.

Veterans Kevin Hecquefeuille and Nicolas Besch also bring good puck-moving skills, while the 191-cm, 102-kg Antonin Manavian offers some physical presence. Last year, the French surrendered an average of 3.25 goals per game, and will need good attention to detail in their own zone to reduce that number.


Adding Antoine Roussel (Dallas Stars) and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Philadelphia Flyers) was a huge coup for this squad. Neither is an offensive god in the NHL: the ever-agitating Roussel had 12 goals and 27 points in 60 games this season, while Bellemare got four goals and four assists in 82 games as a fourth-liner. But with the national team, both will be expected to produce as they did in France’s 2014 quarter-final run, where Roussel was named a tournament all-star. Stephane Da Costa, though limited by injuries in recent years, has established himself as a CSKA Moscow regular, and a revival of the 27-year-old’s partnership with the two NHLers could be fruitful.

As usual, Damien Fleury from Chinese KHL team Kunlun Red Star will be expected to provide timely goals. Sacha Treille (Rouen) was France’s leading scorer last year (3-1-4). Regrettably, budding 17-year-old star forward Alexandre Texier (Grenoble) suffered a shoulder injury in a 3-1 exhibition win over Belarus on 30 April and will be unavailable. The French forwards bring a never-say-die attitude, but can’t afford to play run-and-gun too often in an exciting home-arena atmosphere.


Dave Henderson is the consummate player’s coach. The 65-year-old Winnipeg native, a former Amiens star, is adept at squeezing the most out of a limited talent pool. He’s helmed the men’s national team since 2004-05, and it’s fitting that he’s still in charge 13 years later in Paris. Henderson can rely on veteran voices in the dressing room too, like 38-year-old captain Laurent Meunier, who has worn the “C” since the start of Henderson’s tenure. After failing to make the 2018 Olympics after a 2-1 loss to Norway in qualification play last September, Henderson has a chance to consolidate his legacy with this program with a memorable performance on home ice.

Projected Results

Up-and-coming hockey nations sometimes struggle when they host this tournament. Austria was ignominiously relegated in 2005. The Latvians came 10th in 2006 after finishing ninth, seventh, and ninth in the three preceding years. Yet the French have proved to be a resilient bunch over the years, and will likely do a better job at sticking to their system than some of their foreign peers have. They’ll be in tough against the likes of Canada and Finland in Group B, but if they come out hard, they’ll have at least a chance to secure points in every game.

A top-12 finish is a reasonable target. A quarter-final berth might be an impossible dream. Yet as Napoleon once said: “The word impossible is not in my dictionary.” That’s a motto the French must follow as they strive to delight their devoted fans.


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