Briançon, le champion

80-year anniversary brings first title in seven-game thriller

09.04.2014
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The Briançon Diables Rouges players celebrate after winning the first French championship for the club. Photo: Patrick Farina

BRIANÇON, France – French club Briançon Diables Rouges did not only celebrate its 80-year anniversary this year but also its first French championship in history after defeating Angers Ducs in seven games.

Briançon’s premiere ends the reign of the Rouen Dragons, who won four French championships in a row and eight in 13 years. The Dragons finished the regular season in first place but were ousted in the semi-finals by Angers in six games.

After a second-place finish in the regular season, Briançon defeated Villard de Lans 3-1 in the quarter-finals and the team coached by Luciano Basile, who doubles up as Spanish national team coach, had a 4-0 sweep in the semis against the Dijon Ducs.

The team from the Alpine region of the country had a strong start with a 7-2 win against Angers on home ice but lost 4-3 the day after. When the series moved to Angers for two games the teams exchanged wins again. Briançon regained the lead in the series with a commanding 6-2 victory but Angers tied the series again with a 3-1 win the day after. Also Briançon’s 2-0 blanking of Angers on home ice in Game 5 was answered with Angers’ 3-1 win to set up Game 7.

In a full René Froger Ice Rink with 2,158 fans in attendance a tight first period ended with a 1-1 score. Lionel Tarantino tied the game for the hosts after an early goal from Angers’ Braden Walls.

Angers had a strong second period but didn’t capitalize on its chances and ran into penalty trouble late in the frame. Two power-play goals after 17 minutes from Florian Chakiachvili and Damien Raux changed the direction of the game in Briançon’s favour.

Around the seven-minute mark in the third period Marc-André Bernier and Denny Kearney sealed the 5-1 victory with to additional markers.

It was a great finishing with the key players in shape when it mattered. Ronan Quemener had strong playoffs in the net with a 94.8 save percentage and will be battling for a spot on the national team for the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

“The solidarity within our team and our power play were the key,” Quemener, who was named MVP of the playoffs, told L’Equipe. “We had a more complete team than Angers.”

The “Red Devils” also had the top point and goal scorer of the post season with American forward Denny Kearney, who netted 12 goals and had 14 assists in 15 games. He’s followed in scoring by his teammates, Canadian forwards David Labrecque (6+20=26) and Marc-André Bernier (8+15=23) while Damien Raux in sixth place was the best French scorer in the league.

“My players were awesome. They deserve the title for their team play. We have a good locker room. Our team gelled together. That was our strength,” coach Basile said. “I could never have imagined such a scenario when I arrived here ten years ago. We have to enjoy this title and to stay humble because we know what path we had to go to get there.”

The 80-year anniversary is a year for presents for Briançon. After winning the first French championship, Briançon Diables Rouges will play in European club competition in the upcoming season while trying to defend the domestic title in the Ligue Magnus.

MARTIN MERK

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