The French players celebrate with the fans after their win against Latvia. Photo: Regis Godec
Blue team remains in Olympic contention
The French women’s national team remains in contention for a ticket to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.
The team in blue completed its undefeated streak in its preliminary-round group on home ice in front of 928 fans in Cergy-Pontoise near Paris with an 8-1 win against Latvia and will travel to Tomakomai, Japan, for the Final Olympic Qualification.
The French finish the tournament in first place ahead of Italy, Latvia and China. They’ll travel to Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido in February for Group D of the Final Olympic Qualification where they will play Japan, Germany and Austria for a ticket to the Olympics. The other Group C will take place in the mountain resort of Arosa with host Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Norway, which won the other tournament this weekend on home ice in Stavanger.
Both tournaments will be played from 9th to 12th February. The winners will join the top-5 nations of the Women’s World Ranking – USA, Canada, Finland, Russia and Sweden – and host Korea in the 2018 Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament.
Emmanuelle Passard led the way offensively with two goals and an assist in the first period. The 24-year-old is one of four players from the national team who moved to play at the Universite de Montreal in Canada where she studies anthropology, a step that she says helped here improve her speed and reading the game.
“We are very happy and joyful. We came here to win first place and now we’re there. Our physical play really made a difference,” Passard said and looks forward to the Final Olympic Qualification.
“We know that in the next round the opponents will be tougher but everything is open and I think we will be able to challenge these teams. The games will be faster, the players will be more skilled and the goalies will be better. We need a strong team play and to play solid defensively because there we will pay immediately for every mistake.”
For France it was the fifth consecutive win against Latvia, which was looking to beat the French for the first time since hosting the 2004 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I in Ventspils where it edged the French 3-2 to win bronze. It was too big a task and the Latvians even needed to win with a margin of at least two goals to reach first place due to their opening-day loss to Italy. The hopes to do so faded already early in the game in which France outshot its opponent 49-22.
At 1:46 Soline Fohrer opened the scoring with a solo. She got the puck at the offensive blueline, skated her way through and lifted the puck above goaltender Kristiana Apsite.
Apsite continued to be in the centre of attention as the French created the better scoring chances and played a strong puck-possession game. The Latvian goalie had several saves until the French doubled the lead at 5:48 when Passard deflected a Lea Parment shot forcing the Latvians to take an early time-out.
The time-out was to little avail though. At 8:06 the team in blue hit the back of the net again on a two-on-one. This time Passard had the assist after a horizontal pass in front of the crease to Chloe Aurard, who shot the puck just under the crossbar.
At 11:12 Passard scored her second goal of the night on a rebound after a blocked Marion Allemoz shot. Only after the 4-0 goal did the Latvians have their first real scoring chances but the teams went to their dressing rooms with a four-goal gap reminding of the game played two seasons ago not far from Cergy-Pontoise in Rouen where the French blanked Latvia 7-0 at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A.
“We’re satisfied with the game after we hadn’t played that well in the first two games. The girls took the game from the beginning and created a spectacle. If a game’s like that we can be happy. The beginning of the game was key in all three games and today we scored the goals early, which made it difficult for the opponent,” said France head coach Gregory Tarle.
“In February we will play against teams that are better organized and more skilled. Japan plays very fast, is well organized and physically prepared and Germany plays physically strong and works hard. We will be the underdog but that role suits us.”
Against Latvia the role of the favourite suited “Les Bleues” as well as the French continued to romp in the second period. At 3:25 Lara Escudero made it a 5-0 lead when skating on the right side of the net to let go a shot from an acute angle. And 27 seconds later Betty Jouanny scored the sixth goal for the Frenchwomen.
The pace only slowed down once the French took penalties. When the French had their first power play on their own, they converted it after just 18 seconds with Fohrer’s second goal of the game at 14:55 of the middle frame.
In the third period the Latvians had the better start and Agnese Apsite brought her team onto the scoreboard at 2:57. But French captain Allemoz restored the seven-goal lead at 12:47 with a long shot to make sure the French converted their second power play of the game as well for the final score of 8-1.
Italy finished the event in second place in its strongest showing in many years. The lowest-seeded Italians beat Latvia 3-2 on the opening day but lost 3-1 to France in a match that was tied until two minutes before the end when Allemoz scored the game-winner. They confirmed their form with a 3-0 blanking of China on the last day. Latvia had to settle for third place while China went winless.