International Ice Hockey Federation

Making more miracles

Making more miracles

New mentality is key to success for France

Published 13.05.2014 14:19 GMT+3 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Making more miracles
MINSK, BELARUS - MAY 12: France's Baptiste Amar #27 and Slovakia's Ladislav Nagy #27 are named Players of the Game during preliminary round action at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Dave Henderson is sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have.

Now, France’s 62-year-old, Winnipeg-born coach may not have used that exact phrase while trying to fire up his team before big games at recent IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships. But certainly, the sentiments from Herb Brooks’ famous pre-game speech as depicted in the 2004 movie Miracle apply.

The underdog French have managed to pull off some upsets that aren’t too far removed from the accomplishment of the U.S. college players who edged the mighty Soviet Union 4-3 at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. And they wouldn’t have shocked "Big Seven" nations like Russia last year (2-1) or Canada (3-2) and Slovakia (5-3) this year if they didn’t have the right mental outlook.

“Especially last year, the coaches and the team set different goals,” recalled veteran French defenceman Baptiste Amar after scoring twice in the win over Slovakia. “We said, ‘OK, we play against teams like maybe Denmark, Norway or Austria. Those teams, we’re able to battle against. The big names, we never did it. Why can’t we do it?’ So last year, the coaching staff told us that every game, we’re going to try to win.”

In retrospect, it seems simple and obvious. But again, why not? The score is always 0-0 at the start. The rink is the same size for everyone. You’re competing against fellow human beings, not gods. If you’re in France’s position (12th in the IIHF World Ranking) and you lose, so what?

Every game is an opportunity to do something special. You can’t improve if you only content yourself with beating teams that are on the same level as you.

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“We won against Russia, and then that gave us a huge boost of confidence,” said Amar. “France is maybe not a big name in hockey, but for one day, we can battle with anybody. This year, that’s how we approach every single game. Like Canada, we won. Italy, we had a [not so good] game, but then we came back the next day from down 3-1 [to beat Slovakia].”

A team’s confidence is often reflected in its power play, and France’s PP clicked three times against the Slovaks. Who would have imagined that, prior to Tuesday’s games, Les Bleus would lead the tournament in power play goals (5)?

If the 2-1 loss to Italy reveals anything, it’s that France needs to be wary of “playing up” or “playing down” to the level of its opponents. Good teams revel in their consistency, and that could be the next step in the evolution of the French program.

Amar has represented his country at top-level World Championships since 2000. He’s seen the program come a long way. In his first-ever World Championship game, the French were hammered 8-1 by the host Russians. They were relegated and didn’t come back until 2004. Their next elite-division stint began in Quebec City 2008 – and France has managed to stay up every year since.

Amar is relishing every moment since this could be the last Worlds for the 34-year-old Grenoble captain. What’s the main lesson he’s learned from his national team’s recent trend toward happy surprises?

“Good things happen when you try,” said Amar. “If you don’t try, nothing’s going to happen.”

If you do, well, just might be the greatest hockey team in the world.


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