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World Championship

World Championship a boon for hockey in France

Program trending upward, gets boost with upset win against Finland

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com Correspondent

PARIS -- Philadelphia Flyers forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said he couldn't have imagined his home country serving as a co-host for the 2017 IIHF World Championship growing up.

A win on home ice would've been equally as far-fetched to the now 32-year-old.

But Bellemare was a part of each, with France winning 5-1 against Finland at AccorHotels Arena in Paris on Sunday. 

"It's not a country of hockey," said Bellemare, who had two points (one goal, one assist) in the upset. "To be able to host, that means we've come a long way. It's these types of games we can use to sell hockey and get a couple more kids to dream about hockey."

 

[RELATED: BELLEMARE HANDS OFF PLAYER OF GAME AWARD]

 

Paris is co-hosting the World Championship with Cologne, Germany, through May 21. France is hosting Group B, also consisting of Belarus, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, Switzerland and Slovenia.

Dallas Stars forward Antoine Roussel, born in France, said the event will provide a boost to hockey in his country.

"I was young, and I think [the 1992] Albertville Olympics helped to get it started," said Roussel, 27, who scored two goals in the win. "If we can make a few kids come to the rink and say, 'Hey I want to do that sport,' that will be huge for us. Just having the event it's huge.

"For French hockey it's too soon to talk. But for the tournament, it's a good step moving forward."

If the crowd was any indication, the win against Finland certainly is a boost for the program.

"I don't know what to say, really," Bellemare said. "It was tough to not look up at the end and focus on the game. It was fun … an entire rink jumping like it was soccer in here. It was great.

"I mean, hockey is not the biggest sport in our country but we showed otherwise tonight, I think, with great people here. They were pushing. When we got tired a little bit, they were pushing all around. We got power out of it, energy."

There's plenty of room to grow but France has been trending upward as a hockey nation after finishing with two wins and five losses at the 2016 World Championship.

Their national program advanced to the top division at the 2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship after winning gold at the Division I Group A tournament in April. Prospect Alexandre Texier, who played with Grenoble in France this season, is ranked 16th among European skaters by Central Scouting for the 2017 NHL Draft.

France has also defeated Canada, Russia and Finland in round-robin play at the World Championship in the past four tournaments.

"The heart ... it has been like this for years and years and years," Bellemare said. "We might not have as much skill as other country, but, god, we work hard."

Bellemare and Roussel are the only two NHL players representing France in the tournament. It also includes goaltender Cristobal Huet, who played parts of seven seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks from 2002-10, and center Stephane Da Costa, who played 47 games over four seasons with the Ottawa Senators from 2011-14.

Being among the few with NHL experience is an added pressure, Bellemare said, but not one that would have him decline an invite.

"We have a National team and we're like family," Bellemare said. "Any time you can try to stand up for your country, you stand up for the country. There's no choice. You do it. You come to help the family. The fact it's home is just a bonus, really.

"It's not every year we get a World Championship at home. It's not every year I'm able to play because of playoffs or injuries. I'm taking full responsibility for it.

"I love it."

 

Results from Sunday

United States 7, Denmark 2: Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes) scored three goals for the United States in a Group A preliminary round game at Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany. Anders Lee (New York Islanders) scored two power-play goals, and Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames) and Brock Nelson (Islanders) also scored for the U.S., which rebounded from a tournament-opening 2-1 loss to Germany on Friday. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg Jets) made 23 saves.

Canada 7, Slovenia 2: Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche) scored three goals and had an assist for Canada in a Group B preliminary round at AccorHotels Arena in Paris. He and defenseman Tyson Barrie (Avalanche) each had four points. Chad Johnson made 12 saves for Canada, which has won each of its first two games in regulation.

France 5, Finland 1: Antoine Roussel (Dallas Stars) scored twice for France, which upset the runner-up from 2016 in a Group A game in Paris. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Philadelphia Flyers) had a goal and an assist.

Russia 10, Italy 1: Artemi Panarin (Chicago Blackhawks) scored two of Russia's six power-play goals. Vladislav Namestnikov (Tampa Bay Lightning) also scored twice in a Group B game in Cologne.

Latvia 3, Slovakia 1: Zemgus Girgensons (Buffalo Sabres) had a goal and an assist, and Latvia scored all three of its goals on the power play in its Group A game in Cologne.

Switzerland 3, Norway 0: Goalie Leonardo Genoni made 35 saves to help Switzerland win its second Group B game in Paris.

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