“It was important for us to win this first game. It was a nice performance to start with a shutout,” said Anouck Bouche.
Although she has represented France in 12 consecutive World Championship tournaments, her name as disappeared from international ice hockey recently as her time in the national team was from 2003 to 2017. And now she’s back in her fifth Olympic Qualification campaign for Les Bleues.
During her absence from the national team she wanted to spend more time with her son, now 11, and work on her professional life outside the rink as a nutritionist. While she didn’t compete at the highest level in France during that time, she still stayed involve including a stint in the coaching staff of the U16 women’s national team.
“I’m happy that I can do that while being a national team player. I work at an old people’s home to make sure they eat good, don’t gain or lose too much weight. I also had work in this field with the French Ice Hockey Federation and with regional leagues,” the 33-year-old said.
Then it was time for a comeback that got delayed because most tournaments at that level within and outside the IIHF program were cancelled.
“Due to Covid-19 all big tournaments were cancelled. The Olympic Qualification is a nice competition to be back because we are looking to battle for a spot at the Olympics and I’m wearing this jersey with pride,” Bouche said.
Outside of the national team, she doesn’t play with women but with boys’ teams of her home region of Alsace in the top U20 and U17 leagues located in the cities of Colmar, Mulhouse and Strasbourg. It’s what many national team players do in France to hone their skills and the rules in France allow them to compete in these leagues even if some of their boys are at half her age.
Was it difficult for her to return? “I had to take my time to get back to the level and sacrifice time but my son has grown up a bit so I can be more often in hockey,” she said.
Bouche’s highlight with France was a tournament not far from her home. At the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B in Strasbourg the French won all games to earn promotion to the second tier of women’s hockey after several years at the level below. Since then they managed to stay there and even earn promotion to play one year at the top level at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Finland.
Being back after four years, Bouche didn’t have trouble to find her place on the team. The core of the team is mostly the same as back in 2017 joined by a couple of younger players. Four players on the roster of 23 are under 20 years old. But many things are different.
“We have evolved a lot. We are much more professional than before, the physical preparation is more intense. But the group is almost the same like when I stopped but it is more experienced now,” Bouche said about the differences.
Today they will play an opponent ranked higher then Korea. “The Slovaks are more physical. We have to play harder. They resemble us the way they play. We trust our coaches to tell us the game plan,” she said.
Same as the host Sweden, the French want to move back to the top level and have two chances this season to do so. First in Lulea by winning the tournament and qualifying for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. Then in April on French ice in Angers where the best two teams of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A will earn promotion to the top division for 2023. And Bouche would definitely like to use the first opportunity.
“They are more physical and skilled than us. We are capable to beat them as we should in summer,” Boucher said.
“It was a tough defeat here. We did unnecessary mistakes. There are details we have to improve and we will be much more ready to play on Sunday.”