Preview: France faces a tough task
by Derek O'Brien|11 MAY 2019
Hopeful French forward: Alexandre Texier.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

There’s sometimes a fine line at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship between battling for a spot in the quarter-finals and battling to avoid relegation. The French have been in both battles over the past few years, and have managed to stay in the top group now for over 10 years. In past seasons, France has usually been able to add NHLers such as Yohann Auvitu, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare or Antoine Roussel to supplement its roster. This year, none of those players are in Kosice but a young player who just went to the NHL late in the season is. 


The French will likely rely mostly on 34-year-old Florian Hardy of Les Ducs d’Angers between the pipes. Hardy is on France’s World Championship roster for the ninth time and inherited the starting job a couple years ago after the retirement of Cristobal Huet. The other two goalies are Henri-Corentin Buysse and Sebastian Ylonen, who both have some experience with the French national team over the years, but only one World Championship game between them – that was Ylonen last year.


The defensive corps consists almost entirely of players from the Ligue Magnus. The lone exception to that is 21-year-old Thomas Thiry, who is will be playing in his second World Championship. Thiry has played in Switzerland since he was 12 years old, first with border team Geneve-Servette and now professionally with EV Zug, so he doesn’t count as an import in the Swiss National League.

The veteran of the group is 34-year-old Kevin Hecquefeuille, who is the only player still remaining with the national team from the 2008 team that competed in Division I Group A and earned a promotion to the top group. Incredibly, this will be his 13th World Championship. While not big at 181 cm and 84 kg, Hecquefeuille is still able to contribute offensively, leading French d-men in the Ligue Magnus with 33 points this past season with Mulhouse.


While mostly players from the Ligue Magnus, the French team also has forwards who played in Switzerland, Germany, Finland, Austria, Russia and the Czech Republic and a little bit in the NHL this past season. The French will also count on veteran forwards Sacha Treille, 31, and Damien Fleury and Teddy DaCosta, both 33, although Teddy’s younger brother Stephane, who led the team in scoring last year and played this past season in the KHL, will not be playing.

The youngest player on the roster is probably the one that will attract the most interest. Alexandre Texier, 19, was the second-round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets last year – the first player ever drafted out of the Ligue Magnus. He played most of this season with KalPa Kuopio in the Finnish Liiga, then joined the Jackets for their playoff run. On a team that doesn't have a lot of firepower, it will be interesting to see what kind of role he plays. 


After the retirement of long-time national team coach Dave Henderson, the new head coach is the legendary Philippe Bozon, who was the first French-trained player in the NHL. After retiring as a player in 2006, Bozon went right into coaching, first in Switzerland in Geneve-Servette and Lugano and then in France in Epinal and Bordeaux. Bozon has coached the French U20 team on a couple of occasions but this will be his first experience behind the bench of a men’s national team. As his team doesn’t have the firepower to outscore many Group A opponents, Bozon will surely be relying on experience, chemistry and team defence to keep games close. Bozon’s son, Tim, who was born in St Louis while Philippe played there and has played his career in North America and Switzerland, is on the team.

Projected results

The French last made the quarter-finals in 2014, and while that is surely their aim this time around and it is a possibility, that’s going to be very difficult to accomplish in a group that includes Canada, Finland, the USA, Germany, and a Slovak team playing at home. First and foremost, this team wants to make sure it doesn’t get relegated, which is definitely achievable considering this is its 12th straight year in the top group. That might mean needing to win the game against Great Britain on 20 May, which is the last group-stage game for both teams and it could take on added meaning, given the long-standing rivalry between those two countries.