They finally want to break their ice ceiling. Nineteen years after their last participation in the Olympic Games, French hockey players have three “finals” according to their coach Philippe Bozon to secure their ticket for the 2022 Beijing Olympics. In this qualifying tournament from Thursday August 26 in Riga, the Blues are opposed to Hungary, Italy and Latvia.

The hockey players will try to rekindle the memory of the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, where they took 14th place for their last Olympic appearance, after five consecutive qualifiers. Since then, the tricolor hockey skates desperately after a precious sesame for its media exposure

A paradox at a time when France has no less than three representatives in NHL, the North American championship considered to be the most successful on the planet, with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Tampa Bay), Antoine Roussel (Arizona) and Alexandre Texier (Columbus ), not to mention Stéphane Da Costa who plays in the very tough Russian championship.

“It’s been too long since we took part in the Olympics. For our sport, especially in this period, we need this media window to revive the dynamics of French hockey,” said Bozon. To go to Beijing, you will have to finish in first place in the Riga Olympic qualifying tournament and undoubtedly beat Hungary on Thursday, Italy on Friday and Latvia on Sunday.

But the coach of the Blues, himself passed by the NHL and the St Louis Blues in the early 1990s, warned his players: we must not consider the first opponent, Hungary, 21st in the world rankings, as the least formidable , and the last opponent, Latvia (10th), as the most difficult. “We are not going to make this mistake. It will not be played in the last game, it’s three finals to play, you have to be very serious from the first game,” he insists.

Before flying to Riga, the French team, 15th in the world rankings, concluded their preparation on Saturday with a heavy defeat (8-2) against Denmark, which also participates in one of the other two qualifying tournaments. Olympic. “The result is severe, but on the other hand we absolutely needed this confrontation. You have to be realistic and honest, it has been two years since we had a confrontation of this level”, insists Bozon.

Due to the pandemic and health restrictions, the French team, relegated from the elite in 2019, was deprived of its last two world championships, in 2020 and 2021.

After the men’s team, the French hockey players will in turn try to win an Olympic ticket, from November 11 to 14 in Sweden. It would then be a historic first for the Blue, 10th nation in the world. They will be opposed to Sweden (9th in the world), Slovakia (15th) and a selection yet to be determined.

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