Ask many hockey fans if they knew that France had a national team. After a bit of hesitation, they may say yes. If so, ask them who plays on the roster. Was their answer just Cristobal Huet, assuming they don’t think he’s actually from Quebec?
Odds are, that’s the only player that will come to mind. A former All-Star during his tenure with the Montreal Canadiens, Huet made quite the name for himself in his short NHL stint. Considered to be one of the better goalies during his time with Montreal and Washington, he would eventually find himself finishing his North American pro career with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, winning the Stanley Cup as a backup to Antti Niemi.
So what’s next? France isn’t exactly a goalie hot spot, so if the team is to continue as a mainstay in the top division of the World Championships, they’ll need someone to step up and take control of the situation. Here are five potential options for the next few years, with both experienced veterans and young prospects kept for consideration.
Ronan Quemener: Quemener may be one of the better choices to be a somewhat long-term option between the French net. This past May, Quemener made his World Championship debut after getting named to the French national team for the third time at the tournament, dropping a 4-3 decision to the eventual champions from Canada. While his stats after the tournament may look rather disappointing, Quemener was forced to make a ton of big saves against the much stronger Canadians, giving the all-star squad their hardest match of the tournament. For a guy that had never really had to face high-end talent, it was an impressive debut for the 27-year-old, who is coming off his best professional hockey season of his career.
Playing with Jukurit of the Finnish Mestis league, Quemener finished his 40 game campaign with a 1.72 GAA and .923 SP, eventually leading his team to the league championship. His play, which helped earn him a spot on the Mestis Second All-Star Team, was impressive enough to get him a deal with Asplöven in the second division of Swedish hockey. Acting as the starting goalie over recent Swedish U20 World Junior goaltender Samuel Ward, Quemener will look to bring some experience to a team with a ton of young talent, hoping to bring them to a championship. If he continues to play well, expect him to make a bid as the French starting goalie by the time he’s 30, giving the team a solid, underrated option for at least a few years.
Florian Hardy: Hardy is the most experienced goaltender on this list, acting as a backup to Huet at five of the past six World Championships. The winner of two top goaltender awards in the French league, Hardy moved over to EHC München in the German league this past season to mediocre success. Sitting behind Niklas Treutle, one of the better goaltenders in the DEL, Hardy finished with a 13-9-0 record to go along with a 2.52 GAA and .909 SP%. 2014-2015 was more of a transition year for the 30-year-old goaltender, as the Nantes, FRA native had never played outside of France before heading out to Germany.
Internationally, Hardy hasn’t really been given a chance to shine, having played just six games during five World Championships appearances. During the 2015 tournament, Hardy had a rough time, starting off strong against the Czech’s in the middle of the tournament before eventually allowing five goals. In his only other game this year, Hardy would come in relief of Huet during a 4-2 loss against Sweden, but by the time he was given a chance in net, the damage had already been done. While it may sound like Hardy isn’t that great, he has looked rather solid at various Euro Ice Hockey Challenge events over the past few years, proving that he has some fight inside of him. If they’re looking for a veteran to be solid right off the bat, Hardy’s the right guy to go with.
Henri-Corentin Buysse: If you’re a hardcore hockey fan, you may remember Buysse’s name if you kept track of random third goalies at the 2009 World Championships. A multi-time member of the French U18 junior team, and once the starting goalie for the U20 squad, Buysse finally had his chance to play with the men’s team for the first time this year, despite getting named to the World Championships back in 2009. In two friendly matches, Buysse finished with a 1.60 GAA after allowing just two goals in two abbreviated losses to the Germans in April. He wasn’t really counted on in those games, having to make just 44 saves in 75 minutes of action over two contests, but he did look rather solid. A three time member of French league All-Star team, Buysse will replace Clement Fouquerel between the pipes for a strong Chamonix team, leaving the weaker Dijon squad behind. Will better goal support in front of the solid goaltender help his chances of making the national team again?
Antoine Bonvalot: Bonvalot is a rising your prospect that you likely haven’t heard of, but he’s got some promising aspects to his game. At 5’11, Bonvalot doesn’t have the ideal size for a goaltender, but his quickness makes him very intriguing. In fact, he almost plays like a Jonathan Quick type netminder, using his speed to move from side to side effectively to stop even some of the more challenging shots.
A longtime member of Grenoble in France, Bonvalot saw a lot of success with the various different teams inside the organization. He was able to lead his team to the U22 league championship in 2011-2012, finishing with a 1.49 GAA to lead the league in that category. Two years later, Bonvalot took home the Jean-Pierre Graff Trophy for best young player in the French league, a great honour for a goalie there. Bonvalot will spend the 2015-2016 season with Brest in the French league after a one year stint with Briancon, playing in just eight games with the men’s team. Internationally, Bonvalot has already won medals at three separate junior tournament,s including a gold with the U18 team at the D1B World Juniors that saw him named top goaltender. He’s still a work in progress and is likely one of the more underdog candidates, but at 21-years-old, there’s a lot to like with Bonvalot and the future.
Clement Fouquerel: In club action this past year, Fouquerel was one of the best goaltenders in the entire French league. Internationally, however, his experience is rather thin. This year alone, Fouquerel played just 30 minutes in exhibition competition, allowing two goals on just 12 shots in a split effort with Buysse against Germany. Fouquerel has never been named to the World Championship team in his short professional career, but the 24-year-old was able to win a gold medal at the Division IIA U18’s back in 2008.
A year after that, Fouquerel helped France finish in third place at the Division IA U20 World Juniors, earning the top player on the team honours when it was all said and done. While playing for Chamonix this year, Fouquerel finished with a .919 SP% after 23 games, good enough to earn him a spot in third overall in the league. During the playoffs, however, Fouquerel found himself staring with Gap, leading the team to their first ever top division championship after a successful stint on a loan. His play earned him a full-time contract for Gap for 2015-2016, where Fouquerel will look to be one of the better French league goalies once again.
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