Angers' defensive rock
by Henrik Manninen|14 OCT 2022
photo: Theo Bariller Krine / Angers Ducs
A colossus in the recent history of French ice hockey, Antonin Manavian might have retired from national team duty. But the 35-year-old blueliner still has unfinished business out on the ice with Angers Ducs.

"I´ve won the Continental Cup once, and that was a very good feeling. I was then playing for Rouen and it´s one of the best memories from my career, so I hope we are going to do something similar this year," he said.

Manavian´s sole Continental Cup triumph with Rouen Dragons came back in 2011/12. Now suiting up in the competition for the first time with Angers, they host the second round of the Continental Cup Group C this weekend. Inside IceParc, Angers will battle it out with Hungary´s Ferencvarosi TC, SC Miercurea Ciuc of Romania and Croats KHL Sisak.

"We are playing at home, so we should move on to the semi-final stage. But I have friends such as Gergo Nagy in the Hungarian team (Ferencvaros) and Istvan Sofron from our Romanian opponents (SC Miercurea Ciuc), so I know they have good teams too so we need to be careful," he said.

With nine top division World Championships for France under his belt, Manavian is oozing invaluable experience for Angers. The Paris-born blueliner left the French capital at the age of 16 and hasn´t looked back since. Apart from playing in his native France, he also skated for teams in Canada, USA, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Denmark in a senior career spanning almost two decades.

Part of a highly talented generation of French players, Manavian made his World Championship debut for Les Bleues two days shy of his 22th birthday. His baptism of fire came against Switzerland as France lost 1-0 against their neighbours at the 2009 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Bern and Zurich-Kloten.

"Playing against these top four or top eight countries was always hard. But I´ve also played against many hard opponents. One such memory was from one of my early World Championships when I played against the Czech Republic and Jaromir Jagr. He was really huge, great with the puck and forechecked very well, so I was impressed by him," he said.

Equally impressive was France´s progress during the 2010s. It was a decade full of many memorable moments for Manavian and his teammates skating at the top level. One personal highlight came in 2017 when his native Paris was co-host of the World Championship together with Germany´s Cologne.

"Playing at home in Bercy in Paris was my favourite tournament. We also almost made it to the quarter finals. But in the end we finished fifth in our group," said Manavian of a tournament that included a memorable 5-1 win against Finland and a shootout victory versus Switzerland.

"But there have been many other memorable games. One such was when we beat Russia. It´s not every day you beat a team like that," he said of a 2-1 World Championship win in Helsinki against the reigning champions in 2013.

Having only missed out on one World Championship between 2009 and 2019, Manavian clung on even longer to try and fulfil his boyhood dream to one day skate for France at the Olympic Winter Games.

He came tantalizingly close. A heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to Latvia in their deciding game at the 2022 Final Olympic Qualification saw France narrowly miss out on going to Beijing. It was the biggest disappointment in Manavian´s career and brought down the curtain on his national team career.

"After that game, I told the management that this was it. It was the last chance for me. I am now almost 36 years old and for our generation with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Sacha Treille, Damien Fleury and all those other guys we just have to try to accept it," he said.

Focusing solely on club hockey, he came close to adding another team and country to his resume towards the second half of last season. Then an opportunity presented itself to skate in the Erste Liga with SC Miercurea Ciuc, incidentally one of Manavian´s opponents in the Continental Cup this weekend. In the end, he decided that the time was right to prioritize being near his loved ones. 

"For the last three years, I had moved everywhere without my family. So when the opportunity came to go back to Angers and be able to stay with my family I took it. That´s why I am here now," he said of Angers, a team and city which meant a great deal to him throughout his career.

"When I played elsewhere, I came back here during the summer for the past eleven years. So if we can win the Continental Cup then it would be great for the team, the city and our fans. Because this club is kind of my family too," Manavian said.