QUEBEC CITY – For the first time since 2004, France will play among the top sixteen teams in World Championship competition. The goal now is to stay up. Group A competition will be tough but the French are looking to be more than an afterthought.
Dave Henderson returns as head coach. As a player, Henderson was a member of Amiens in the French League. Henderson was responsible for getting France back into top pool consideration after being relegated in 2004. Pierre Pousse, who also played for Amiens in the mid-nineties, will assist.
France would receive an instant boost of credibility with Cristobal Huet in the net. Huet is France’s most successful hockey player. Drafted by the Los Angeles, Huet was traded mid-season to the Washington Capitals where he helped turn their fortunes around in qualifying for the playoffs. Huet will have to carry the load and stand on his head to keep his team in games. While his efforts might prove valiant, Huet cannot do it by himself and needs defensive support and converted offensive scoring chances. Fabrice Lhenry and Eddie Ferhi split duties for the national team. With Huet in action either will see little to no time unless games are a rout and Huet is pulled.
Vincent Bachet played a key role in France’s Division I triumph in China. He scored two goals in five games and tied for second on the team with a +4 rating. Baptiste Amar, Nicholas Besch, Jean-Francois Bonnard will attempt reprise their roles as steady performers in front of their net. Besch led the team with 31 penalty minutes at the Division I tournament. With their limited international resumes, the French defenders will be tested from the first drop of the puck. Without prior experience on this the highest stage of annual international ice hockey competition, the defense will face a nightly challenge to keep the score respectable.
There are some offensive bright spots here. Laurent Meunier led France in Division I scoring with eight points. Not afraid to shoot the puck, Meunier averaged four shots a game. Not far behind were Pierre Edouard Bellemare Francoise Rozenthal with five; and Sasha and Yorick Treille with four each. French forwards scored 21 goals in five games at the Division I championship but on the smaller ice surface, against stiffer competition, the chances will be few and far between. They will have to press in the offensive zone and create turnovers that lead to solid scoring chances. And even if that happens, they must be skilled at burying those chances.
While France should be right at home in Quebec City, they are significantly overmatched on the ice. But with a bit of overestimation by their opponents and some disciplined, straightforward hockey, they can keep things from looking bad on the scoresheet. But that’s asking a lot of things to fall just right. Nonetheless, France will make their best attempt to play competitive hockey.