MANNHEIM – Très bien, très bien! France kept its place in the World Championship, relegating Kazakhstan with a 5-3 win on Tuesday afternoon. The French will be back for 2011 with the U.S., while it's farewell to Kazakhstan and Italy.
With the conclusion of the Relegation Round, the Americans finish in 13th place, while France is 14th, Italy 15th, and Kazakhstan 16th.
The U.S. and France will play in the 2011 IIHF World Championship in Bratislava and Kosice, Slovakia, taking place between April 29 and May 15, 2011.
Five different players scored for France, which got two power play goals to double its overall tournament output. Laurent Gras tallied the eventual winner with 6:17 left in the first period.
French goalie Fabrice Lhenry earned his biggest win of the tournament versus Kazakh starter Vitali Yeremeyev, as Kazakhstan outshot France 38-22.
"We had just one goal today and that was to win," said Lhenry. "It wasn’t a pretty game, and we scored a couple of garbage goals, but they went in. The most important thing was the victory, and now we stay in the top pool for next year."
With 7,845 spectators on hand, the upper decks at SAP Arena were packed with local schoolchildren, who enthusiastically cheered, jeered, and banged their noisemakers throughout the game. The noise level was actually higher than at some earlier games involving bigger-name teams, and the Kazakhs and French fed off that energy from the start.
"It was fun playing with all of those screaming kids," said French forward Stephane da Costa. "It was different."
Just over four minutes in, on a rush into Kazakhstan's zone, French forward Yorick Treille slid heavily into the end boards and injured his left leg, which twisted awkwardly. He lay crumpled on the ice in obvious pain until attendants carried him off on a stretcher. He was transported to hospital.
High-pitched screams of delight greeted France's opening goal on the power play at 8:39. Sacha Treille, from behind the goal line, snared the puck at Yeremeyev's right post and managed to bounce it in off the netminder's leg.
Kazakhstan responded two minutes later when Dmitri Dudarev won a faceoff in the French end, put a shot off Lhenry that bounced high, and then whacked it out of the air in the midst of a crease scrum. It was the Metallurg Novokuznetzk forward's team-leading fourth goal of the tournament.
The French jumped back into a 2-1 lead at 12:19 when captain Laurent Meunier capitalized on a turnover in Kazakh territory, stickhandled his way down the middle, and put the puck past Yeremeyev on his forehand.
At 13:43, Laurent Gras made it 3-1 France when he barged out of the corner, cut to the net and squeezed a shot through the Kazakh goalie's pads. Just over two minutes later, Kazakhstan pulled back to 3-2 when Roman Starchenko backhanded home a rebound from Maxim Semenov's point shot.
During an early second-period Kazakh power play, Lhenry preserved France's lead with a series of clutch saves. And midway through the game, his teammates repaid him for his efforts during a power play of their own, as Baptiste Amar beat Yeremeyev through traffic with a center point shot to put France up 4-2.
The French extended their lead to 5-2 at 8:42 of the third, as a rushing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's shot from the left faceoff circle tipped off Roman Savchenko's stick and through the goalie.
Vadim Krasnoslobotsev scored for Kazakhstan with 6:42 remaining, converting a rebound high over Lhenry's glove to make it 5-3. But that was as close as the former Soviet republic would get.
"We’re about the same level as they are, so we just tried to play well defensively, and we had a pretty good game," explained da Costa. "In the end, we played harder. We hit more, and we know they don’t like that."
France has retained its spot in the top division for the third consecutive year. Kazakhstan can make its return no earlier than the 2012 Worlds, co-hosted by Finland and Sweden.
Italy and Kazakhstan will play in the World Championship Division I in April 2011. The applicants for the two groups are Budapest, Hungary, and Kyiv, Ukraine.