STRASBOURG, France – The French women’s national team succeeded on home ice in Strasbourg at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B to earn promotion to the Division I Group A.
France was the third-seeded team behind Kazakhstan and China, two teams that came down from the top division to the third tier of women’s hockey in recent years.
On the first day it was France and the two Asian nations that won their games. China didn’t on day 2 as it lost 4-3 to the Netherlands while France blanked DPR Korea 5-0 and Kazakhstan remained undefeated thanks to a 4-3 victory in a shootout over Great Britain.
After three days of play the “Les Bleus” remained the only undefeated team after beating China 5-1 while Kazakhstan lost 4-2 to the Netherlands. It was a sweet revenge for the French after they had lost to China on the opponent’s ice in Shanghai in a shootout last autumn in the Olympic Pre-Qualification.
“We had difficult moments in the last few years too,” captain Marion Allemoz said. “Since the Olympic Pre-Qualification tournament back in November we have managed to get back on track. We have a good team spirit and everybody worked for everybody on the ice. That’s how we were looking for one win after the other.”
With a 3-0 blanking of Kazakhstan on day 4 the French already sealed the tournament win and promotion one day before the end of the tournament. In front of 1,592 fans in Strasbourg they completed their winning streak with a 6-1 win over Great Britain that was relegated to the Division II Group A.
For the French it will be a return to the second tier of international women’s hockey after they were relegated in in 2008.
“We were rewarded for the work we did,” head coach Christine Duchamp said. “I’m very proud of my players to win it, on home ice and even before the last day.”
The French roster had solid depth on both ends. Caroline Baldin, who got the start in three games, had a 97.56% save percentage while three of the tournament’s top-five scorers were French with Allemoz (3+7), Emmanuelle Passard (5+3) and Lore Baudrit (4+4).
The two others were Dutch forwards Mieneke de Jong (6+3) and Savine Wielenga (5+4).
The Netherlands were the other surprise. They defied eventual tournament winner France as well as they could in a 4-2 loss in the opening game but won all other four encounters at the tournament to move up to second place.
After winning the silver medals in Strasbourg they will be ranked 16th overall. They reached this position only one time – in the year they entered the program in 1999.
The bronze medals go to DPR Korea, equalling the result they had last time when they played at this level in 2009. After that they were relegated due to their non-participation in 2011 but made their way back to the third tier by winning the Division II Group A tournament last year.
DPR Korea started with losses against Kazakhstan and France but then beat Great Britain and neighbouring China before the team earned the point it needed for a medal in a 3-2 shootout loss against the Netherlands.
Where there are positive surprises they must also be negative upsets. The Chinese, who played among the top hockey nations until the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, only finished in fourth place – the worst placing ever in the 21-year-old history of the Chinese women’s national team in the Women’s World Championship program.
Also Kazakhstan is on a record low in women’s hockey. The Kazakhs played in the top division just two years ago at the 2011 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Switzerland where they finished in last place. They also finished rock bottom in last year’s Division I Group A tournament for the second straight relegation and now barely managed to stop the free fall with a fifth place in the Division I Group B. This, thanks to a 4-3 victory in shootout against Great Britain, which finished with two points but with zero wins in last place and will be relegated.