PORRENTRUY, Switzerland – Eddy Ferhi is a goaltender in one of the most historic hockey towns in France: Grenoble. The city situated at the foot of the French Alps that hosted the 1968 Olympics will host the Continental Cup Super Final in January.
“It’s a classic hockey town in France,” said Ferhi. The 3,500-capacity arena Patinoire Pôle Sud has been sold out for five of six home games this season. “Unfortunately the season has been a bit difficult due to financial problems. The salaries had to be cut and we lost some imports.”
Despite the financial problems, the Grenoble Brûleurs de Loups has 10 wins in 11 games. But because the finances were not in accordance with the regulations when the controlling committee evaluated the clubs, Grenoble and Mont Blanc were sanctioned with a fine, disqualification from the 2009 and 2010 French Cup and a deduction of points – two for Mont Blanc, six for Grenoble. That’s why the team is currently in fifth place – and not in second behind leader Angers.
The playoffs will be the time when the “Wolf Burners” can show their strength on national level. But before that, the club will host the 2010 Continental Cup Super Final. Yunost Minsk (Belarus), Sheffield Steelers (Great Britain) and Red Bull Salzburg (Austria) will be the other national champions in the event.
“Everybody in Grenoble, the clubs, players, and fans have been looking forward to the Continental Cup the whole year,” Ferhi said. “We haven’t had anything like that. We want to organize a good event and play good games. We know that it will be difficult to win the tournament, but we will try our best.”
The 30-year-old Ferhi came to Grenoble in 2006. He spent a few years in North America, playing four years with Sacred Heart University (NCAA) and two years minor league hockey including 20 games for the AHL’s Cincinnati Mighty Ducks.
Before he went to the United States, he played in his hometown of Paris. In total, 20 championships were won by different Parisian teams, 19 between 1904 and 1953, and the 1989 championship by Français Volants de Paris. It’s Ferhi’s native club which currently plays in the third-tier league as the best team from Paris.
“It’s a pity that Paris doesn’t have a club at the highest level, so the players have to go to the left and right if they want to develop, or to the mountains, but there are a couple of good hockey players from Paris, the region has one of the biggest selection of players,” Ferhi explained. “For the development of French hockey it would be good to have a strong club in the capital city.”
One first step was to stage the French Cup Final permanently in Paris-Bercy since 2007. The attendance was between 12,000 and 13,000 in each of the last three years, breaking the French attendance record.
Since returning to France, Ferhi also joined the national team. He’s ranked third behind Grenoble native Cristobel Huet and Fabrice Lhenry in the French goalkeeper hierarchy. But since Lhenry has been injured since the beginning of the season, Ferhi is currently in net for the French national team.
His first game during the international break this week wasn’t the most successful. France lost to Switzerland, 10-1. It was the most lopsided defeat against the Swiss in 42 years.
“We expected that it will be a fast and difficult game, but we didn’t expect that it would end like that. They reacted very quickly at rebounds and we didn’t bring with us the rhythm and speed you need at that level,” Ferhi said before the next two exhibition games against Norway on home ice in Mulhouse and Strasbourg.
The team knows that it needs to improve for their next big event, the 2010 IIHF World Championship in Germany. Last year, France was the surprise team. The team beat Germany to advance to the qualification round. Their 12th–place finish was the best result since the ‘90s.
“It was a good surprise. We played the best game we could play, especially in the defence,” said Ferhi, who appeared in one match, a 7-2 defeat against world champion Russia.
To avoid the relegation round in Mannheim, Germany, the Frenchmen need to beat at least one of their group opponents – Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Norway. The exhibition games against Norway on Friday and Saturday thus have a bigger meaning.
“If we don’t believe in us, we don’t have to go there,” said Ferhi. “Norway is the closest opponent for us while it will be very difficult games against the Czechs and Swedes. But we also know that Norway has a very good team with high-calibre players from the best leagues in Europe, in the KHL, in Sweden.
“We want to remain in the top division and it’s the best for your nerves when you can avoid the relegation round.”
Before it’s time for the 2010 Worlds, Ferhi will have the opportunity to shine in the Continental Cup, January 15-17.