Story of the Week

France moves up
Historic rise to top level of WW

In some ways, France’s win was a culmination of years of hard work and steady growth by a team of young women who have conquered the world together on more than one level.

In other ways it was complete and utter luck.

Team France joined Group A of Division I after sweeping the 2013 Division I Group B World Championships. They came in fourth in 2014 and third in 2015. In 2016 they came within one game of winning Group A: tied on points with Germany, they came in second by virtue of the fact that their only loss of the tournament had been against Germany. 2017 saw them win Group E of the Olympic Qualifying rounds, and come third in group D by only one point (again, a loss to Germany, this time in overtime). Clearly, this was a team on the rise.

Unfortunately, whether due to having played their hearts out in two tournaments already that season or just straight up bad luck, the 2017 Worlds were a disaster for France. They lost every game, and only scored one goal (Lara Escudero, assisted by Clara Rozier, against Austria). In any other year that would have seen them relegated back to Group B. But they got lucky. In 2017, the IIHF announced that the Top level for women’s ice hockey would expand by two teams in time for the 2019 World Championships. In practical terms, this meant that no teams were relegated in 2017.

Not only did France not get relegated in 2017, the IIHF changes meant that no one got relegated from the Top level down to Division I either.  Denmark, Norway and Austria have been perpetual members of Group A for longer than France has been in the group.  Since 2013, when Japan moved into the Top Division, the winner of Division I Group A has continually been the team that was relegated from the Top level the year before. That’s not to say that France couldn’t have won Group A this year anyway — they got awfully close in 2016 — but without a recent Top level team in their way, the path was a little easier.

Another piece of luck, or perhaps just interesting coincidence, is that every recent major win for Team France has been at home. The 2013 Group B World Championships, 2017 Group E Olympic Qualifiers, and this year’s Group A World Championships have all taken place in France.

The inspiring power of French fans notwithstanding, France only has 2500 registered women’s players, so it’s not a surprise to see several players on their team have chosen to further their development in North America. Nineteen-year-old Northeastern University commit Chloé Aurard and the Université de Montréal’s Estelle Duvin were two major contributors for France. Both had five points, Aurard with four goals and an assist, Duvin with three goals and two assists. A quick perusal of the roster will show an immediate theme—along with Duvin, Emmanuelle Passard and Jade Vix are currently playing for UdeM, while team captain Marion Allemoz and her fellow Montréal Canadienne, Lore Baudrit, both spent time there. It’s convenient for France’s national team that Canada has Francophone schools with great hockey programs; the language barrier can be a problem for non-native-English-speakers in the NCAA, who have to reach a level of fluency that lets them keep up grades in an American university.

13 of the 22 players on this year’s senior team were also on the team in 2013 when they advanced from Group B. Their results at the 2017 Worlds mostly show what many smart coaches have told us — progression isn’t always linear. Team France got some help from luck and/or excellent timing but it’s clear that skill and hard work were what helped them seize the opportunity to advance.


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Update: Yes, the home team also won in Division I B. South Korea came very close to winning the group in their first year in Division I, while China couldn’t maintain their winning pace from the beginning of the tournament and ended up in fifth place.

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