France is one of the most important hockey countries in the world. Don’t believe it? Well, if it hadn’t been for the French, an International Ice Hockey Federation, first the LIHG, now the IIHF, would have had to wait at least a few more years to be established. In May 1908, Louis Magnus and Messrs. Planque and van der Hoeven called a meeting in Paris where the LIHG was officially born. Magnus was elected as the first President of the new federation, and Planque the first General Secretary. On 20 October of the same year, France became the founding member of the LIHG…and the French have held high positions on a regular basis, Philippe Lacarriére is presently a member of the Presidium of Honour of the IIHF.
At the beginning of the century, hockey was very popular in France. The first players from overseas appeared, particularly in Paris. Relations between France and the Francophone parts of Canada have from time to time for business or family reasons brought Canadians to Europe. In 1920, the French entered their first international competition when they played in the Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium where they finished sixth. Up to 1937 France played almost regularly in all tournaments but then there was a lull until 1950 – when they returned again to play among the elite. This return, in London, did not go so well, with France finishing in last place. But a year later, the World Championship was held at home, and of course, the organizing team had to be there to play. Then though, after another year and another last place finish, a further fall came. This lasted all the way up until 1992 when the French finally came back to Group A of the World Championship held in Prague and Bratislava. In the nineties, the French national team had good results, in 1995 they even came eighth in Sweden, which is to date their best placement in history. But St. Petersburg in 2000 brought the French another disappointment – second last place and again relegation to Group B. Another return is set for 2004.
French hockey may have suffered somewhat from lack of confrontation with the world’s best. The French national team often plays in the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge and in other smaller tournaments. There they measure their power mostly against “B teams” of players from, for example, Finland or Russia – but it seems that this type of competition may not be sufficient for the experience desired.
The French have played hockey at the Winter Olympic Games too. But the Olympics in Salt Lake City did not go well for them – they lost their game for 13th position with a very disappointed Team Slovakia by a score of 7-1. They finished in last place and could only dream about the main competition.
The French domestic league has quite a complicated structure. Fifteen teams, in two groups, played last year – the groups are divided geographically between the “North” and “South”. After the basic part of the season, in which each team plays home and away games, the competition continues with a second round of games in groups – this time divided not according to geography but hockey prowess. The eight best teams play again in two home and away games for the four semi-final positions. The champions last season were Dragons Rouen. Club hockey in France is at quite a sound level. Besides a number of fine home-grown talents, foreigners too play for French clubs. The French were not out of the picture in the former European Ice Hockey League, particularly Rouen played an important role. But even now, for instance in the Continental Cup, they are not one of the teams that can be counted on as beaten before the whistle is blown.
In spite of such success, clubs in France have faced problems from time to time – and this means in particular complications of a financial character. In 1999 a special board was established which was supposed to help relieve the financial problems of some clubs, which sometimes end up bankrupt. This committee has chosen to be very strict and as one of its first steps, sent Grenoble, the championship team from the 1997-98 season, to a lower amateur league. Obviously great speculation and scuffles have appeared, amateurs have cried out against interference in their competitions, the players of Grenoble were left without any work, and the President of the Federation of Ice Sports, Didier Gailhaguet, has even come up with the idea that a team from Milan, could play in the French league instead of Grenoble!
The financial committee complicated the situation further – the opening day of the league was postponed because some clubs did not prove their financial solvency. Nothing much changed in later days, and for all that, the league indeed began in the end and the work of the committee was terminated. The French have tried to solve long-lasting problems and they wanted to have results right away. Some people from the Federation have already learned that this is not possible so quickly and the situation has at last started to stabilize.
You can find the results and the calendar of 2003/04 season HERE
The French national team has never won a medal at either the World Championship or the Olympic Games.