French captain Marion Allemoz was the first to leave home for playing her club hockey in Montreal. Photo: Jan Korsgaard
French women moving through the rankings
France had its best result in the Women’s World Championship ever by winning silver last year in Aalborg, Denmark.
Just four years earlier the French women’s national team was ranked 17th in the world, placing third in the Division I Group B in 2012. Between now and then, the national team has evolved into a force that was within one win away from being promoted to the top division of women’s international hockey, losing to Germany in what was a gold-medal decider on the second-last day of competition.
The improvement of French women’s hockey was no fluke and the time of its rise has a direct correlation with the IIHF mentorship initiatives that linked the province of Quebec and the French ladies. Daniele Sauvageau, the French team’s Canadian mentor within the program, helped organize a two-week camp in Quebec, back in 2012, where the national team trained and played games against the CWHL’s Montreal Stars and the Universite de Montreal Carabins among others.
The winter preceding the camp in Quebec, French national team captain Marion Allemoz made the brave and gutsy decision in a true act of leadership becoming the first women from her country to fly over the Atlantic Ocean and join the Carabins and play in the Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) competition.
“It was not a hard decision because I wanted to play the best hockey and in Montreal it is hard and fast,” said Allemoz, who was second overall in scoring tied with nine points with Germany’s Laura Kluge.
“It is pretty easy for French women to go to Montreal because we have Daniele Sauvageau there. She is our mentor and also the General Manager of the hockey program of the Carabins at the Universite de Montreal and that is why we have the ability to go there,” she added.
Joining her the following year was national teammate Lore Baudrit, with Emmanuelle Passard coming two years after. The two ladies all had good contact with Allemoz before making their decision to join her, saying that it was an easy decision after hearing what their team captain had to say.
“Of course it was easier because Marion was there because I knew how everything was working,” explains Lore Baudrit. “It was easier coming into the team knowing someone and knowing everything about the team because Marion had told me,” Emmanuelle Passard nodded her head in agreeance beside her.
At times all of the women agreed that it is hard to be away from their family and friends and that they miss the culture back home in France, but it is all worthwhile because they know they are improving their game and the quality of the French national team in the process.
The hockey lifestyle is incomparable between France and Montreal. Although hockey may be their whole lives when playing back home, many people outside of the sport don’t really knows it exists. In Montreal it’s of course a different story.
“In France we have hockey in our life but not everyone knows what we are doing or what it is,” says Baudrit. “In Montreal the whole town is living with hockey, so that is really fun because you have that hockey culture.”
The differences on the ice are also drastic. Of course, the speed and the skill level is at a much higher level than they are used to on a daily basis, but it is the competitiveness to gain places on the game roster which makes sure that they train hard and constantly improve their game.
“We have good players on our team so there is a lot of competition within the team, so we always need to step up,” says Allemoz.
“You have to step up and be at the level of the other players. You need to work hard at training if you want a place in the team,” Baudrit added.
The level of the Carabins team is the best in the country, recently winning the 2016 CIS National Championships with a crushing 8-0 victory over the Alberta Thunderbirds. Emmanuelle Passard was the star of the three French girls, scoring 1 goal and 2 assists, winning her first ever championship with the Carabins. For Allemoz and Baudrit, the victory was their second, adding to their tally from the 2013 National Championships.
“For me it was my first time. It was extraordinary, it was like winning a World Championship,” said Passard.
The environment within the Universite de Montreal is very unique, which makes it a perfect place for French women that are looking to improve their hockey while gaining a university degree at the same time. Firstly, the university is a French-speaking school which helps with the integration of new French women who may not have great English skills.
Also because of an agreement between the French government and the province of Quebec the cost of attending university is much cheaper than if they were to go to school somewhere else in North America. Once the young women have finished their degree in Montreal, their qualification is also applicable back home in France.
When it comes to hockey, the university does not have a men’s team, which allows the women to take full advantage of all of the facilities on hand whenever they need to, without having to compete for time with a male team.
“The university is very well structured and we have everything there that we need to compete and be the best we can be while we are there,” explains Passard.
The women acknowledge that their move from France, and also other teammates overseas experiences, like Anouck Bouche who plays for HC Lugano in Switzerland, (and who has generously translated the interview between the three ladies and the writer) has taught them many things that they have been able to pass on to their fellow national team players.
“It helps a lot and gives us more experience and we bring that back to the French national team, which makes us better. A few years ago we did not work as hard as we do now not just on the ice but with off-ice training. This has made us better,” says Allemoz.
This new hockey mind-set that they have developed in the national team has been the underlining factor for their team’s rise through the rankings, with all of the other ladies on the team adapting the same work ethic and constant crave for improvement.
Along with the goal of moving up to the top division the women also have their sights set on qualifying for their first ever Olympic Winter Games, in PyeongChang, Korea, in 2018. They did the first step by winning their Preliminary Round tournament on home ice in Cergy-Pontoise against Latvia, China and Italy.
“The Olympics is our goal and it is very important to us, and of course, we want to go into the top division soon.”