MONTREAL - Cristobal Huet is set to close out an important chapter in his hockey career.
The 41-year-old French goaltender is making his final international appearance at the 2017 IIHF World Hockey Championship, which will see him suit up in front of family members, friends, and fellow countrymen aplenty at AccorHotels Arena in Paris during the preliminary round of competition.
It marks the 13th time that Huet will be participating in the annual tournament, which is being held in France for the first time since 1951. The event is co-hosted with Cologne, Germany.
"We're very excited to play this tournament at home. It's a big challenge for us. We want to play well, showcase our sport to the French people, and unite everyone. We hope that it's going to be a great event for all the countries involved," said Huet, one of three netminders on France's roster, along with Florian Hardy and Ronan Quemener. "We'll certainly try to use the energy of the people to our advantage and get some momentum going."
Huet and company get down to business on Saturday evening when they open up Group B play against Norway, before taking on Finland, Switzerland, Canada, Belarus, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia through May 15. A top-four finish would afford them the opportunity to move on to the quarterfinals, something they've failed to do the last two years with 12th and 14th place finishes, respectively.
"We have a good group - maybe the best group we can have," said Huet, referencing the likes of NHL teammates Antoine Roussel (Dallas Stars) and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Philadelphia Flyers), both of whom are quite capable of lighting the lamp. "We'll try to stay tight and make sure we work hard every game, just like we do every year. We have a chance to beat every team. We play to win games. It would be big this year to have success together."
The two-time Olympian fondly recalls backstopping France to its last quarterfinal appearance in 2014 in Minsk. It all began with a memorable 3-2 shootout win over Canada. Huet turned aside 34 of 36 shots against through 65 minutes of play, and then denied Kyle Turris, Sean Monahan, and Matt Read on shootout attempts. Bellemare ultimately settled the score with the shootout winner, beating James Reimer.
"If there's one good memory, I'd have to pick what we did in Minsk. Beating Canada that year, then we beat Slovakia. We won four games and we ended up playing Russia in the quarters. We played great against them, but lost 3-0. Winning was a lot more fun than losing that year," cracked the 2010 Stanley Cup champion, who also recalled some of his tougher moments on the international stage.
"I remember when we had to play in the B Pool, the bad travelling, the bad dressing rooms. It's really a mix of things when I think about everything over the years. We always had to fight really hard to stay with the top teams," added Huet. "Lately, though, we've been playing better. Even if we're not the best team on paper, it's been very encouraging to see our progress."
Good times or bad, Huet wouldn't trade any of his international experiences for the world. Sporting his country's colors has always been a badge of honor for him.
"It's like a cherry on the sundae every year to be able to go to the World Championship and play with the National Team," said Huet, who still has one year remaining on his contract with Switzerland's Lausanne HC. "You have to be there. You want to be there. It's really important for us to have everybody competing for our country. That's how I've felt about it the whole time."
Results aside, the "cherry on the sundae" for Huet this time around, of course, will be sharing this very special moment with those closest to him, especially his sons, Ewan and Ayden.
"It's definitely a reward for them. I'm away a lot during the year, so it will be nice to spend that time together. It's probably going to be an emotional time for me," said Huet, whose parents and brother, Antoine, will also be in the stands cheering him on. "It should be really fun to have them there. They don't usually come to the World Championship to see me. It's going to be a time to thank them for what they've done for me."