The learning time
In 1992, two months after the fever of the Olympic Games in Albertville (qualification in the quarter-finals), France played for the first time since 1950 in an elite World Cup. But the group matches all end in defeat (4-3 against Canada all the same). The Blues escape in the play-offs against Poland (3-1), which is the first tricolor victory in a World Cup of the modern era. A wink of fate, Philippe Bozon, the current coach of the France team, who was playing at the time in the NHL, at the St Louis Blues, had scored. In 1993, another victory in the play-offs and above all a fine performance against… Switzerland (3-1). Then, in 1994, France escaped before the hour, beating Norway (4-1) in pool. And, in 1995, it was a feat: a place in the quarter-finals!
The time of difficulties
But the quarter of 1995 will be short-lived. The Blues are no longer approaching the Top 8 and are scared in 1996, winning in the play-offs, and in 1999, having to go through a qualifying tournament, six months after a failed World Cup. Then in 2000, it was the first relegation, according to an unfair system: Japan, too weak to finish anywhere but in last place, was however protected (to try to develop discipline there). It is the penultimate that will fall. And it will be France. The Blues return in 2004, only to collapse again: no goals scored in the first four matches and no overall wins. New relegation. The France team will not return to the top flight until 2008.
Philippe Bozon (here at the Albertville Olympics) had helped maintain the 2022 World Cup. (Rochard / L’Équipe)
The time of success
With Cristobal Huet, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Stéphane Da Costa or even Antoine Roussel – all ped through the NHL – the Blues will change dimension. There will be historic victories over Russia (in 2013), Canada (2014) and Finland (2017) and a place in the quarter-finals in 2014. France will often play to reach the Top 8, in particular at home in 2017. The Blues still had to save themselves in 2008, 2010 (they crossed paths with the United States in the maintenance pool!) and in 2015 when, a year after playing their quarter-final, they survived the of the last match, won on penalties against Latvia.
The golden generation of French hockey is moving away from the selection over the years. Despite the arrival of Alexandre Texier, also an NHL player, the Blues are struggling not to go down. They do this most of the time, and by winning the decisive matches for the maintenance relatively early in the group stage: Germany and Hungary in 2016, Belarus and Austria in 2018, Kazakhstan and Italy last year. Only one misstep: the relegation of 2019, with seven defeats in a row, including the unexpected one against Great Britain in the last match. France dates back to 2022, after the suspensions of Russia and Belarus following the invasion of Ukraine. If they win Tuesday against Hungary, France would secure their place in the top flight for next season.