After an opening loss against a VERY strong Latvia side, the GB squad have little time to rest, as they’re straight back in action against France for the afternoon game tomorrow. The French, who are ranked 14 in the world, are themselves reeling from a loss to Kazakhstan and will see the British game as a must-win before they face Latvia in their final game. So what can we expect from the French?
Most of the French team play in the domestic Ligue Magnus, a league which many say is comparable to the EIHL in standard. However, French teams have consistently beaten the EIHL squads in Continental Cup competition over the past few years, with Grenoble, Amiens and Rouen all recording success against UK opposition. However, there are more and more French players playing in the top leagues in Europe, with captain Laurent Meunier playing in Sweden and other players in the squad who ply their trade throughout the Swedish, Czech, Swiss and Russian leagues. They will probably be of a slightly lower quality than the Latvians, but not by much.
The biggest name in the French squad will start in net. Former LA King, Montreal Canadien and Chicago Blackhawk Cristobal Huet is their starter. At the age of 37 he’s nearer the end of his career than the beginning, but is still strong positionally and will be very tough for the GB forwards to beat. You don’t play over 200 games in net in the NHL without being able to stop some pretty high-level shots. He’s backed up by fellow veteran Fabrice Lhenry, with Florian Hardy in third spot, both of whom have spent the majority of their careers as starters in the Ligue Magnus.
The French defence bucks the stereotype about French defences-it’s pretty strong. Stand-outs include Kevin Hecquefeuille, who has spent much of his career in the DEL, Switzerland and KHL, the smooth-skating Baptiste Amar, the hard-hitting Antonin Manavian, who’s a big lad at 6’4 and 223lbs and the shifty little Maxime Moisand. They’re useful enough, but have few genuine stars among them..The gaps can be found if GB play to their potential…
The French captain Laurent Meunier has done it all. He was captain of Grenoble for donkey’s years (including 2005, when they met Coventry in the Continental Cup) now plays for Straubing in the DEL, and is the old head around which France’s forwards are built. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a lethal goalscorer along with his ex-Rouen partner-in-crime Julien Desrosiers-the two scored for fun before Bellemare left for Skelleftea in Sweden. Loic Lamperier is the top-scoring native player in the Ligue Magnus at the moment, but the major player to watch out for physically are Sacha and Yorick Treille, who at 6’5 and over 200lbs each are a pretty intimidating pair of brothers on the forward line and can certainly cause all sorts of problems in front of the GB net.
Despite the difference in ranking levels, GB can beat France. They have to eradicate the discipline problems that saw the Latvians pick them apart through the powerplay, as the French are a similarly skilful puck-moving team. 5 on 5, though, the two teams are well matched if GB play to their full potential.
I fancy GB to nick a win in this one. Maybe in OT, but both France and Kazakhstan are beatable, the worst is out of the way, and if GB do beat France and the Kazakhs pull off a win against Latvia tomorrow, then Sunday’s game between the two sides will see the winner go to Sochi. But GB have to win their game first.