One month before the D1 World Championship in Angers, the coach of the French women’s hockey team, Grégory Tarlé, gave Hockey Archives a few moments in a turned upside down preparation.
Hockey Archives: You finally know the composition of this division 1 pool. The situation must have been strange to manage, with this promotion of Sweden to replace Russia in the elite, excluded?
Grégory Tarlé: We suspected it. Now, we will have to take the time to talk with the staff and the players. This changes the game: having two tickets out of six is not the same as one for five! The change is more from a mental point of view. On the strategy and the way we have to play, it does not change much.
HA: There was a spirit of revenge against Sweden I guess…
GT: We were waiting for Sweden, yes, with the desire to standardize. But it will be a difficult World Cup all the same. The teams are very close in terms of level. Our sporting ambitions are still there.
HA: Does that change something in terms of rhythm, with one match less?
GT: Yes, it changes the game, we will take the time to think about it. We are waiting for the IIHF calendar, because there are two solutions: either we keep the schedule with a “forfeit” Sweden, or not. The IIHF has retained the possibility of five-a-side Worlds in its regulations with another calendar. We await their decision.
HA: When will you know?
GT: Well, the U18 World Cup has been postponed to the beginning of April and Slovakia has been sucked into the elite… but the schedule is still not validated! It’s a bit crazy, what’s happening, but we take it with philosophy. Much more serious things are happening in the world right now.
HA: We saw a slightly different squad during the friendlies in February compared to the TQO…
GT: Yes, in February we tested young people, because our North Americans couldn’t make the trip. We were able to rotate the guards. I will not reveal the selection for Angers! But our experienced players will be there.
HA: Some players, like Lucie Quarto or Emma Morel, have played relatively little this season?
GT: They were able to play. Emma Morel was in prep school in Vermont with Julia Mesplèdes with a season between the end of October/beginning of March. A rather classic scheme, and she joined the Pôle France for a week. This is the organization that we had put in place. For Lucie, it was a little more difficult to access the ice. She was still able to play in the playoffs at her Canadian university and was able to have decent playing time this season given the circumstances. The Canadian university context has been the most affected by the regulations related to Covid-19.
HA: And now, we will have to put everyone back on the same level, between those who have already finished their season and those still in the race!
GT: Exactly! We are entering the critical period where we fear injuries requiring two to three weeks of rest. The championships stop in dribs and drabs. We are on our way to the finals in Switzerland and Finland, postponed there because of the Olympics. This concerns our players from Helsinki. The players of the Pôle France will still play until the beginning of April in the U15 championship. Lara Escudero is still competing in Hungary until early April as well. The others have a cut-off period.
HA: Having dispersed internationals is the ransom of success in short?
GT: Yes absolutely. It is the fruit of the work carried out for four to five years in view of the Olympic qualifying tournament. It is our strength to have internationals in major championships, and in important positions in their respective teams. The follow-up is more difficult, but it is also what allowed us to be so close to Sweden during the TQO.
HA: Precisely, in the absence of Sweden, what to think of this hen?
GT: It is within our reach, we know the adversaries. Maybe a little less the Netherlands, but we will face them in preparation, that was the objective. I expect close scores. Slovakia, Norway, Austria – which had a good TQO – and therefore the Netherlands, perhaps a notch below even if they are a few players in Sweden. Their alignment is probably less dense. I distrust everyone.
HA: And it’s also the last tournament for some players…
GT: Of course, it’s motivating. We don’t hide behind that, it’s like at the TQO. Experienced players played their last TQO and this will be their last tournament. We had done a lot of psychological work on that. There, the latter will be in France, in front of family and friends. There will be a lot of emotions, to be transformed into positive sensations. This gives us additional strength, and being in France will allow us to highlight the exceptional careers of these players.
HA: And it’s finally this World Cup in Angers, so postponed!
GT: We have felt a craze around this team for two years, via social networks, and via the media outlets of the Angers club and its supporters. We will finally be able to concentrate and see the ice rink vibrate in French colors. It will be a great hockey party. We have ambitions, and we hope for the support and follow-up of spectators. We have been waiting for this tournament for a long time.
HA: Before that, there will be the U18 World Cup, with some players present in the previous senior groups, including Jade Barbirati who was at the TQO…
GT: There will be the U18 World Cup in early April indeed. No surprise, Jade was at TQO and will be on the senior roster, but there may be other youngsters. All of this is part of the work of the Pôle France: preparing for the renewal of generations. We have been working for four years towards the TQO, but it does not stop there. We are preparing the next step, the integration of new players via the training of the Pole. Despite everything, the objective remains the performance at the World Championship. If the players are summoned, it is only because they bring something extra.
HA: If we detail the opponents of this World Cup, what are their strengths and weaknesses?
GT: Slovakia has set up a national training center for a few years, similar to ours. They have known the elite in the past. Their young are growing strong. It is a country that played the Olympics not so long ago. Their U18s have been drawn into the elite. Slovakia has a culture of the game and women’s hockey. In recent years, we have found a way to win against this country, but every game has been difficult. They are well coached, their bench depth is similar to ours. We will have to use previous confrontations, but they will do it too, it’s give and take! The Slovaks have a few players in major leagues, but I think we have more experience. We have a mix of youth and experience, with talented players in key positions in their respective teams. Caroline Baldin had an exceptional season in Switzerland, Estelle Duvin is second best scorer in Finland despite playing in a mid-table team. Chloé Aurard played in the Frozen Four as a university student, Marion Allemoz is having one of her best seasons in Sweden. We know our strengths and our opponents know them well.
HA: The other countries?
GT: Norway is a bit like us, their major players are pretty close to the end of their career. They have talent but perhaps less depth. They have a very good guardian [Linnea Holterud Olsson], a little younger than Caroline Baldin. It’s a catchy team, which can produce results.
Austria, we haven’t played for a long time, but it’s a team that I follow. They have a striker in the NCAA, at the University of Vermont [Theresa Schafzahl] who plays in the same division as Chloé Aurard. She was already in D1 against us. Speedy winger plays Brynäs [Anna Meixner]. They have big individualities but, past the first line, it drops quite a bit. Their coach is the former coach of Finland, passed by Hungary. It is a closed game, which looks for counter spaces. There will be an Austria-Norway in Paris in preparation, we will observe it.
Finally, the Netherlands, who are robbed of their place in the TQO by Poland. This is a team that we have analyzed. It has two players in Sweden who have had good seasons [Julie Zwarthoed et Kayleigh Hamers]. A priori it remains the weakest team…
HA: But we know what paper is worth, don’t we?
GT: Yes! Sport is dense, tight, a lot can happen. I know the character of our players, their state of mind and their strengths. They are keen to have a good World Cup to end their career in style, as for the continuation of the French women’s team project. And this, even without Sweden for the revenge. The World Cup is the second goal of the season and it will finally happen. We have eight to nine days of preparation to fine-tune the details. We are going to get back to a World Cup, it has been a long time!
HA: What will be the preparation?
GT: Two matches were planned, against Sweden and the Netherlands. We are looking for a replacement for the game against Sweden, but if we can’t find it, we will organize it differently. The ideal would be to play two matches before this five-a-side tournament, we will have to find a solution. It’s the strength of the staff, to pool our ideas and find solutions. We are constantly adapting and the work has already progressed a lot. We are already working on the cardio follow-up of the players in order to determine the peaks of strength, and to change the training to be in an intensity close to a match. It’s our culture, the players adhere to it. It’s the same operation as rugby, it was released in the media – even if the means are not the same. We put them in situation in training as if it were a match. The approach is similar. It does not replace a real match, but we will be present.
HA: And that will allow a general upgrade?
GT: Preparation is for that. We must put those who have not played for a long time into the rhythm, and use this recovery period for players who have experienced dense playoffs. The staff and physical trainers are ready. Everything is in place for this data, the players know it and we have undoubtedly the most experienced in the tournament. They know recovery and preparation. We are confident, we know how to do it. Yes, there are still things that we do not control, and we will have to deal with them. The goal is to have fun, that’s what girls want at home!
HA: A homogeneous D1 World Cup… a word on the state of world women’s hockey?
GT: The resources make the difference. Look at the Czechs, who have been ahead for ten years. Their program is in development, a country with a culture of hockey, a small country but which takes care of them like men. Canada, the United States, Finland… then a group of four or five countries, then the same thing. I will say that it is homogeneous until the thirteenth place. But as long as there are people who dream, volunteers, temporary workers… We have a professional approach, not in terms of money, but we are professional in our actions, in our areas of expertise and our commitment. Many countries have the same dynamic as us.
HA: Finally, we will be delighted to meet you in Angers… hoping to see you without the bubble mode!
GT: We don’t know the IIHF’s position on that yet. I think it will be possible without a bubble, we will already see how it goes in the U18s, if it will be strict or not. We really hope to be able to value the players. They have experience, they are accessible to the media. This image to convey is much more difficult in bubble mode. In any case, thank you for following us to Sweden. To know that there were three media in this press gallery [Hockey Archives, Plan de Match, Hockey Franco]to bring the event to life, it warmed our hearts.