Friday, 9 February 2018

Patinoire Richard Bozon

Chamonix Pionniers 2-3 Ducs d'Angers

30th January 2018

My skiing abilities are probably best described as “Barely-competent”.  I can safely negotiate most green and blue runs without putting life or limb in too much danger – both my own and, perhaps more importantly, those of other skiers.  I have peered nervously over the precipice of the occasional red run and thought “No Thanks”.  Black runs, I regard merely as particularly effective modes of committing suicide.

I could improve, I suppose, with a bit of practice.  But like most things in my life – writing blogs, career progression, sexual technique, musical instruments I have taken up – I could never really be arsed putting in the time to rise above the level of barely-competent.

So what has this preamble have to do with ice hockey?  Well, nothing really.  Other than it was on one of our infrequent family skiing holidays that Son noted that the Chamonix ice hockey side were hosting Ducs d'Angers (or Angers Dukes) during the week of our holiday.  And an evening lending my support, I felt, would ford me a welcome break from the strudels, crepes and cheese fondues.

Chamonix Patinoire may be found in the Richard Bozon Centre Sportif.

Richard Bozon Centre Sportif, Chamonix

I could not be sure, but I think the 1924 Winter Olympics took place on this site.

Looking north up the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc Valley

A superficial dig into the history of Chamonix ice hockey side would lead one to believe the outfit I toddled along to watch were the most decorated club in French history.  But that accolade actually belongs to the Chamonix Chamois who, following their formation in 1910, had been crowned Champions on no fewer than 30 occasions - although not since 1979.

But by 2015 the Chamois were no more, having chosen to merge with locals rivals Pingouins de Morzine-Avoriaz to form the Chamonix Pionneers.  This new club, apparently making no claim to the illustrious history of the Chamois.

The Pionniers enter.  They are named for a unit of the French Foreign Legion.

Home goal tender Richard Sabol is (I think) offering up a prayer before the start of the match.
Faith the good it did him, as Gibbon may have said (I was re-reading Sunset Song during the holiday).

The start of this match saw the Pionniers in second bottom place in la Ligue Magnus (the French top flight), and badly in need of a win to aid their attempt to haul themselves out of the relegation play-off positions.  If I understand things correctly, the bottom four sides in the league at the end of the regular season “play-out” to avoid the single relegation spot.

La Ligue Magnus is generally regarded as being of a superior grade to the UK EIHL, so I was keen to see just what was on offer.  The slightly odd business of the playing of the National Anthem before each match, which I had encountered in the UK was replicated this evening.  But that was fine, as I just love The Marseillaise.  And should Planet Earth ever find itself playing some inter-Solar System ice hockey match against Callisto or Neptune or whoever, I should be more than happy to have Rouget de Lisle's rousing march as our International anthem.

Opened in 1971, the Richard Bozon Ice Rink is a modest affair indeed, as was the attendance which looked far less than usually pitch up at EIHL matches.  They were also a rather subdued group, despite the best efforts of a trio of drummers to rouse them.

Chamonix Pionniers v Ducs d'Angers - January 2018

Cody Campbell of Ducs d'Angers was the sole Brit on show.
Although strictly speaking he was listed as GBR-CAN in the programme, he having been born in British Columbia

As to the actual quality of the ice hockey on show, I could discern little improvement to that which I occasionally watch at the Fife Ice Arena.  Indeed, one in-front-of-goal fresh-air swipe by a visiting forward would have shamed a novice at the sport.  Encouraged by the tub thumping three, the Pionneers enjoyed the bulk of possession in the opening period although, whilst I can recall one shot p-tinging off the cross bar and high into the air, they rarely seriously threatened the visitors' goal.

The Angers lads seemed content to allow their hosts possession of the puck, secure in the knowledge opportunities would present themselves.  Opportunities which the visitors converted with an efficient ruthlessness on two occasions, to lead 2-0 after the first period.

The Ducs bossed the majority of the second period; indeed at one point removing their goal tender to play with six outfield players.  Now I have seen this done occasionally, exclusively by losing sides chasing the game in the closing minutes.  But never by a side leading.  Either the goal tender (or a vital part of his equipment) required some short term treatment and Angers had no reserve ready to go, or they felt piling on the pressure to score a third goal would effectively end the contest.  In the event the tender returned at the next stop in play, with the score unaltered.

If a touch of complacency had been at the heart of things, the visitors were sharply pulled back to reality by Chamonix scoring twice in the space of 25 seconds, both times through one of their Canadians: Andrew Johnston.  That certainly got the drummers drumming once more.

The three percussionists looking a touch glum - their side was 2-0 down at this point.

Some fist-bumping fan-bonding going on at the second break.

It also set us up for an intriguing third period, one in which both sides went full on for the win, to the delight of all the neutrals in the crowd i.e. me.  Actually I don't think that was true, for I heard quite a number of English speaking voices in the place; clearly holiday makers like myself looking for a bit of diversion.

Additional time - or Prolongation, as it is known locally - looked on the cards before, with just over two minutes remaining, Maxime LACRIOX (another Canadian – there were a total of 11 across both squads) slapped in what proved to be the winner.  The score produced nothing more than a collective sigh of resignation from the home support – who had probably become depressingly inured to such disappointments of late. 

What may just save their club from imminent relegation is that the Strasbourg side appear a real basket case this season.  I shall follow developments with interest.

Chamonix Patinoire, Richard Bozon Centre Sportif.
Richard Bozon was a Chamonix mountain guide killed during an avalance in 1995

Chamonix Patinoire, Richard Bozon Centre Sportif.

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