BERNE – There’s one easy way to see if France is playing a close game, within a shot of winning it, without even checking the score. Keep your eye on the French number 27. If he takes every other shift or more, France is really going at it. If not, all hope is gone and coach Dave Henderson has probably realized that the game is over, deciding to rest the man.
Because Baptiste Amar - aside from maybe goaltender Fabrice Lhenry - is Team France’s most valuable player, and an argument can be made for his being the whole tournament’s most valuable player to his team.
"He's our go-to guy. He's always been a good player, but in the last four years, he's truly taken command of our defence. He plays 5-on-5, he plays power play, he kills penalties, he's our number one guy," coach David Henderson says.
Henderson’s not just saying that. Amar truly is his go-to guy, and he goes to him quite often. This is Amar’s ice time in the four games France has played in the tournament:
- France - Switzerland, 0-1: 29:48, most in the game
- France - Russia, 2-7: 16:29 (but only three minutes in the third period as Henderson rested him for next game)
- France - Germany, 2-1: 31:43, most in the game
- France - USA, 2-6: 24:27, most in the game.
"Yes, I play a lot, together with my defensive partner [Vincet Bachet]. That’s just the way the coach is. To be honest, it’s tough to try to make a play when we have the puck, because I’m tired, so instead I may just clear it out of the zone," Amar says.
"And everybody on the team works hard, it’s not easy for the forwards, either, because they work so hard defensively," he adds.
Not only does he play a lot, but he’s also plus-3 on a team that has scored six goals in the tournament.
The 29-year-old defenceman was the French League’s MVP last season, had an excellent World Championship when Team France defended its top division spot in the relegation round playoffs against Italy.
This year, Amar was the French league MVP again, and France took one step forward, advancing to the qualification round.
"That was our goal, to save ourselves, but we want to stay focused and play well in the second round as well. Some of the guys on our team have been with the national team for14 years, and this is the first time in the second round," says Amar.
Amar has only waited for nine years, having debuted at the World Championship in 2000 in Russia. Then, France ended up in the relegation round, lost to Ukraine, and was demoted to Division I.
He spent two years at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, with current Team France teammates Yorick Treille and captain Laurent Meunier, before returning to Grenbole in the French league in 2003 where he’s played since. But now, Amar is looking to get to a bigger European league.
"I'd like to leave France next season. I think we play better than last year, so maybe that gets somebody’s attention and opens up a door to a bigger league," he says.
Naturally, all that has been pushed aside now, as Amar leads Team France in their remaining games against Latvia and Sweden.
For coach Henderson, Amar is a key person in the locker room as well.
“He's our assistant captain, that speaks for itself. He knows what to say, and when to say it. He knows how to get the team back on track when it’s down. He's excellent in the locker room and on the ice. He's just great,” Henderson says.