For Canada, under coach Tom Renney, that meant players from the AHL, IHL, and Europe. Corey Hirsch was the goalie. He had been playing in the AHL with Binghamton, and there were many other names recognizable even today – Jamie Heward, Brad Schlegel, Todd Hlushko.
Canada won their opening game, 5-3, against Switzerland, and Hirsch was sensational. Up next was France, a team Canada had played only five times previously: a 4-3 win in 1992, and four one-sided wins in the 1930s by an aggregate of 43-1. But on 25 April 1995 in Gavle, the French made history at the Gavlerinken, pulling off their greatest victory ever, 4-1 over Canada.
“It was a long time ago, but there are some things that are still fresh in my mind,” recalled Christian Pouget via telephone from his home in Chamonix. “We had a new coach that year, Juhani Tamminen, a Finnish coach who was really pushing us to be successful on offence. We had been playing in the A Pool for a few years now [since 1992], so we were used to the level and had experience, which was very important. We had no fear. We were not intimidated by anyone, and we had good leadership on the team. We were fighters. And in our first game of the tournament, we beat Germany [4-0], so for our next game against Canada we had some momentum. We were confident.”
As it turned out, Hirsch was shaky that day, giving up five goals on just 22 shots. Pouget scored twice, including one late in the first period that resembled the historic shootout goal Hirsch surrendered to Peter Forsberg at the 1992 Olympics. “I hope the French post office won’t make a stamp out of it, like they did in Sweden,” the goalie said good-naturedly after the game.
“I was playing with confidence,” Pouget continued. “Two years before, I was hurt and needed surgery, and in ‘94 I was better. By ’95, I was feeling very good. I played in France that year and had a lot of success. I scored a lot of goals this year, and I’m not usually a scoring guy. I don’t know if Canada took us too lightly, but we had nothing to lose. And things started to go our way. We scored first on a power play, and the second one was a long shot form the blue line which went through several players. It felt like things were going for us. And I had some good chances that were going in. That’s all I can say!”
Coach Renney was more philosophical after the game. “There’s a long way to go yet…this isn’t the time to panic. We were struggling, and France played good team defence.”
“I’m proud of, and happy for, my players,” Tamminen enthused after the game. “Now, we can say we are a team. We’re fighting to get to the playoffs, and this was a big step towards that.”
Pouget scored later in the game as well, as did Philippe Bozon, current head coach of France at this year’s World Championship. Jean-Marc Soghomonian had the other French goal, one of only two career goals he scored in 20 games at the World Championship. Ralph Intranuovo, an Edmonton prospect playing in the AHL with Cape Breton, scored the lone Canadian goal to make it a 2-1 game. He had been a star player with Canada’s gold-medal team at the 1993 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Canada recovered and went on to win a bronze medal, defeating the Czechs, 4-1. Tamminen did, in fact, get France into the playoffs, where they lost to Finland, 5-0 in the quarters. But they finished 8th, their best placing since 1937. To this day they have never finished higher, finishing 8th only one more time, in 2014. It was a golden moment, a remarkable victory, and one that had meaning and tangible results. Canada has played France eight times since 1995, winning seven. The French won in a shootout, 3-2. The year? You guessed it – 2014.
Pouget recalls just how monumental that win was for France’s hockey program. “Three years before we made it to the quarter-finals of the Olympics at home in Albertville, which was the first time we had a good result at the Olympics. This win was our biggest result in World Championship history. For the first time we beat the top hockey nation in competition. We may have beaten them once before in a friendly game, but this was at the World Championship. And the next generation then had some good results against the top nations.”
And for the players, it wasn’t an isolated moment in their lives. They continue friendships to this day. “I still keep in touch with some of the guys from that team,” Pouget added. “Where I live, near Chamonix, Pierre Pousse lives five minutes away. He was a coach for a few years as well. Stephane Barin lives in Grenoble, not far away, and he is my best friend. So we keep in touch. Not everyone, but lots of players are still friends.”