“This accession is done on green carpet and we obtain it with, in the decor, the humanitarian drama in Ukraine. There is no need to climb on the table. » The president of the French Ice Hockey Federation, Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, summarizes the general feeling when the International Federation decided in mid-March to replace Russia and its Belarusian ally at the World Cup in Finland (May 13-29) by France and Austria.
At the same time, the Blues were battling in Slovenia to obtain their accession to the elite on the ice. They must now prepare to face Canada, Slovakia (3rd in the last Olympics), Switzerland or even Germany, in a pool A where they will above all seek to maintain themselves.
In this sense, the matches against Kazakhstan and Italy will be crucial. Because this elite World Championship, which the French left in 2019, missed the Blues in their ultimate quest: to access the Olympics for the first time since 2002.
In May 2021, France indeed saw the World B canceled when the Latvians organized the World Championship and played seven high-level meetings, where everything can be played on a badly supported pass or superiority. Like the last minutes of the decisive match at the Tourquoi Olympic qualification, in August, against the same Latvia. The French, 6 against 4, had not been able to chip away at the opposing defense (2-1 defeat).
This express reclassification therefore changed the plans of coach Philippe Bozon. “For the World B, we had prepared to have the puck most of the time but there, against these opponents, it will no longer be the case.he explains. We are not in the same logic as a summer preparation either. (for the OQT), we are at the end of the season with players who have had a very condensed last two months because of the Covid. »
Da Costa unavailable, Roussel uncertain, Texier expected
If, at the TQO, the France team had almost all its forces, this will not be the case in Helsinki. On the return of defender Yohann Auvitu, author of an excellent season in the Finnish League in Helsinki, it will be necessary to cut off Stéphane Da Costa (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg), injured and in a rehabilitation center in Germany for several months.
Arizona Coyotes (NHL) striker Antoine Roussel, who wanted to extend his season with the Blues, has also been injured (lower body) since early March and must undergo new examinations to see the evolution of his injury. . Finally, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, who plays for one of the best NHL teams (Tampa Bay Lightning), double holder of the Stanley Cup, has very little chance of wearing the tricolor jersey in May, in the middle of the play-offs of NHL.
The Blues will therefore rely on their captain Damien Fleury (Grenoble), in sparkling form, and perhaps on Alexandre Texier, who is due to return from injury shortly, his team, Columbus, not having left to qualify for the NHL. . “We hope to have him with us”says Bozon.
The course of the French in Finland will also shape something else: the future of management. Bozon, at the end of his mandate, has never hidden his desire to leave for four years. This rise in the elite is a chance for him, who experienced, with the demotion in 2019 and the Covid in stride, a tumultuous exercise. In Helsinki, the question of maintenance could be written in the plural.