“Guys have to seize this opportunity and above all not brag about a dramatic event. “The president of the French Ice Hockey Federation (FFHG), Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, is well aware of the reasons for the presence of the tricolor selection at the World Elite, which begins Friday, May 13, in Finland.

On March 1, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the International Ice Hockey Federation announced the exclusion of Russia and Belarus. On March 18, France were drafted (along with Austria) thanks to their world ranking, three years after their relegation to the second international level.

“We were impatiently waiting to find the elite, admits the national technical director (DTN) Christine Duchamp. It was the political situation that allowed us to access it, but we are happy. »

Maintenance objective

For the France team, the objective is clear: “We are obsessed with maintaining it”, assured coach Philippe Bozon on Wednesday on the FFHG website. To obtain it, the Blues will have to avoid the last place in group A, which they will dispute with Kazakhstan (Sunday May 15 at 3:20 p.m.) and Italy (Wednesday May 18 at 3:20 p.m.).

A few months after the men’s and women’s selections failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics (OG), a slightly more positive dynamic set in for French hockey: the Rouen Dragons played their first quarter-final in the Ligue des Champions, in December 2021; the French women’s team will return to the elite after a second division world championship title, won in April.

For its part, the French men’s team, to achieve the objective set by Philippe Bozon, will be able to count on its five players playing in Switzerland, the largest foreign contingent of the selection of twenty-five players selected for the World Cup: Tim and Kevin Bozon, Enzo Guebey, Thomas Thiry and Valentin Claireaux (only two games in the second world division).

How to explain that the National League, the Swiss first division, is the most represented league within the Blues, ahead of the Finnish (three players) and American (two players) championships? “It’s a league of the top 4 in the world,” said Tim Bozon (28), the coach’s son, Lausanne striker.

“The Swiss championship is attractive, you almost automatically have a chance to play in the French team when you play in the first division”, continues his brother Kevin, who will play his first World Cup at 26 before joining the Ajoie club. (Switzerland) next season.

Exile to progress

Four of these five French internationals were trained entirely in Switzerland, leaving very young for the other side of the border. “I had no choice, I was already there, specifies Tim Bozon (at the time, his father, Philippe, was pacing the Swiss ice rinks). I am a pure product of Swiss training. »

For Thomas Thiry (24) and Enzo Guebey (23), going into exile in Switzerland was a voluntary act. Native of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, having started hockey in Annecy with the Knights of the Lake, the first took the direction of Geneva from the age of 12, helped by his parents. “We would go back and forth for practice in the morning, then I would go to high school, and do it again in the evening. Quite an experience,” admits the Bern defender.

The second, from Saint-Gervais, followed the same trajectory. For two years, his parents took him to Geneva before he joined a foster family at the age of 14. “It was an ordeal, I had to become more mature,” the Zurich defender recalled.

In Switzerland, young French people find a country crazy about ice hockey, more conducive than France to develop quickly. “The level and consistency are much more important,” explains Enzo Guebey. In Saint-Gervais, we struggled to make a team while in Geneva we were a hundred young people for twenty places. »

work on training

“It is not a concern, sweeps the president of the FFHG, Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, about these young people who are expatriating. We do not have a brain drain, we are not in panic. The important thing is that they no longer have to leave. “We better support players who want to leave, but we don’t want them to leave to leave,” says DTN Christine Duchamp. We are trying to improve training in France. »

On the territory, nine hopeful centers under 18 years old and four training centers under 21 years old (Amiens, Angers, Grenoble and Rouen) exist in the male sector. A France hub is also under study, like the women’s hub opened in 2008.

“It would seem interesting to us to duplicate this model so as to have a small group of players on a daily basis to accelerate training”, confirms Christine Duchamp.

Even if it is still far from the Swiss championship, the Magnus League (French first division) has continued to evolve in recent years. “She has clearly improved,” thinks Tim Bozon. “A team like Grenoble [champion of France for the eighth time in April] can compete [with clubs evolving] in the bottom of the table of National [Hockey] League”, continues Enzo Guebey.

Measures to promote French players

The FFHG works to increase the level of French players. Since 2019, the regulations impose at least ten players trained locally (JFL), including at least one goalkeeper, out of the twenty names lying on a score sheet in the Magnus League. This figure increases to 13 in D1, the second division, and to 15 in D2, the third division.

A circulation system has also been put in place so that a young player can gain experience in satellite clubs in lower divisions while playing, in the same season, in his Magnus League club.

“Our young people can play against adults, with responsibilities,” rejoices Pierre-Yves Gerbeau. Our ambition is that our internationals will no longer be exported, except in the NHL, the North American championship.

Alexandre Texier (22) is the best example. One of the three NHL tricolors, with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Antoine Roussel, did not go to Finland until he was 18, after his training in France, before joining Columbus (Ohio). He will be one of the leaders of the French team in the world. With a shock: for their first match, Friday, the Blues face Slovakia, third in the Olympics.



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