By Nathaniel Oliver – The Hockey Writers
France’s Women’s National Ice Hockey Team is in the process of creating hockey history. After winning gold at the 2018 Women’s Division IA World Championship – played on their own home soil in the town of Vaujany – the French women have been promoted to the top division in women’s hockey for the first time ever. The 2019 Women’s World Championship will be played from Apr. 4 to Apr. 14, 2019 in Espoo, Finland. All of the big names will be there – Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and more. When France takes the ice against those countries, one of their young players will be 21-year-old Clara Rozier. She is one of the players who got France there in the first place, and rightfully so.
While France has never really been considered a “hockey hotbed”, Rozier is not only incredibly proud of what she and her teammates accomplished, but also very proud of all hockey players who have come from France and made the spotlight. Appreciating today’s current stars, her fellow countrymen hold a special place in her heart.
“Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Cristobal Huet, Antoine Roussel, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare,” Rozier rattled off some of her favorite names. “Crosby and Ovechkin because they are the best players in the world, for me. They have a lot of qualities. Crosby with his stick is very amazing – he can do everything he wants. And the others because they are French players and they played in NHL. Huet is an example. At the last World Championship (2017), he was very impressive at 40 years old!”
THW talked one on one with Rozier recently. We learned more about how she got started playing hockey and her story up until now. Perhaps more importantly, we got a sense of her aspirations for the upcoming Women’s Worlds in April 2019.
Learning the Game in France
Too often when North Americans think of France, we typically imagine only places like Paris or maybe the French Riviera locations like Cannes or Nice. We tend to overlook the more mountainous or colder climates of the country. Locations in the French Alps such as Chamonix, Grenoble and Albertville have each played host to a Winter Games. The mountain terrains also happen to be where Rozier is from, and it is where she learned to play hockey.
“I live in Morzine, a ski resort in the French Alps,” Rozier explained. “In this little town most of the children are skiing, playing ice hockey or both. I’m very happy to live in mountains! I started hockey at seven years old. Nobody in my family plays ice hockey. It was my best friend who was playing hockey and gave me the desire to play.”
However, chances to play the game in Morzine were quite sparse. The town itself has a population of not even 3,000 people, and hockey opportunities were slim, particularly for girls. Enough so that as Rozier got into her teenage years it was necessary to move to a more populated portion of the Alps. Rozier’s residence during her formative years had approximately 56,000 more residents.
“There are not a lot of opportunities to play hockey because it is a little city and they don’t have a women’ hockey team,” Rozier stated. “So I played with the boys when I was young, and at 15 years old I left Morzine for Chambéry to play with Pôle France. It is a women’ hockey team which gathers the best girls in France in sports studies. I stayed in Chambéry during five years, and this year I came back to Morzine because I’m ski instructor too. But I still play with the Pôle.”
Playing for Pôle France Féminin
The goal of Pôle France is to bring together the best female players in the country and centralize them in Chambéry. Although Crozier just entered her early 20s, she and a number of players her age have continued to play for Pôle in competitive hockey throughout France. Because France has a limited number of female players, it promotes better overall development and competition by having a team mixed with teenagers and young adults, and having them compete against younger male teams.
Crozier explained a bit more about how Pôle works:
“Like I mentioned before, Pôle regroups women from 15 years old and we play in the U17 French Men’s Championship because the women’s league is too poor to progress, and playing against boys is very good for us. They skate faster, shoot harder so it’s not so bad. We are just 2,408 girls playing hockey in France, whereas in the USA you have 75,832. So it’s difficult for us, but a lot of little girls are coming now and I think we have good players to take over of French hockey in the future.”
Through 75 career games with Pôle France, Rozier has scored 26 goals and 23 assists for 49 points. Her finest season offensively was this past 2017-18 campaign when she scored 16 goals and eight assists in only 20 games to lead the squad in scoring. Rozier is a winger with a right-hand shot. At 5-foot-3 and close to 140 pounds she possesses quickness, but is more of a heady, cerebral player. Rozier is also modest too, and found it difficult to speak about herself when asked what her best attributes are as a hockey player.
“For playing ice hockey, you have to be very strong in your head because it’s a very hard sport!” she stated. “For me I think I have a good vision. It’s difficult for me to speak about myself. I think I’m a complete player, but I have to work hard for becoming stronger everywhere. When you play ice hockey you have to be good in a lot of attributes – it’s a difficult sport.”
Representing Her Country on the International Stage
During Rozier’s teenage years, she represented France in IIHF U18 tournaments for three different World Championships at the Division I level and one qualification tournament. With her on their roster, France won the 2013 Women’s Division I qualification tournament outright, before going on to win the bronze medal at the corresponding World Championship. Rozier ensured that the French followed that up with a silver at the 2014 tournament and then gold in 2015. She served as an alternate captain for the gold medal team, but may have had her finest performance at the U18 level in 2014. There she was a point per game player with three goals and a pair of assists in the five tournament games.
“When I put the jersey on to represent my country I feel very proud,” Rozier shared. “It is real pride to put this jersey on and a dream! I think a lot of people want to represent their country and not all can do it. So it’s a privilege and I’m very proud of this. I feel really excited because I’m going to play an international game.”
Since the U18 level, Rozier has played for France Women’s National Team at three World Championships at the Division IA level and at an Olympic qualifier, beginning in 2016. While she would go goalless for her first two Worlds and the Olympic qualifier, she saved her first goal at a Women’s World Championship for just the right time. Played in Vaujany, France, the 2018 Women’s Division IA World Championships were held and the French were at the top of the podium – winning gold and advancing for the first time ever into the top tournament. Rozier scored the second goal of the game, which held up to be the decisive game-winner in the final game of the tournament, a 7-1 win by France over Slovakia.
“It’s amazing – I have no words to explain it,” Rozier said when asked what advancing to the top division means to her. “It’s one of the best days of my life. I already know this feeling because three years ago we won the World Championship with the U18 French team (at Division I). But my generation (1997), it was our last year with the U18 team so we won but we did not have the opportunity to go to the top division the following year. But today I can go to the top division, so it’s not really the same feeling. I can see what is happening at the top, and I really look forward to being there! It’s just a perfect moment with an amazing team. And we won in France! The ice rink was full, a lot of noise, my family was here, so it was perfect!”
They’re Not Done Yet!
The work of Rozier and the French National Women’s Team is not done yet. Yes, they have made history and have reached a distinct pinnacle. However, it is not the pinnacle. Rozier has no intention of falling out of the top division and facing demotion once the 2019 Women’s Worlds take place in April. Furthermore, she and France are focused on Olympic qualification as well.
“With the team, the goal is to try to stay in top division next year and be qualified to the next Olympics Games,” Rozier explained. “Personally, I want to progress in the speed of my skating and my shots. To become stronger, and have more playing time – have a more important role on the team and on the ice.”
There is no question that Rozier will be able to accomplish her personal goals for skill improvement. She has the drive and the motivation to continuously improve. In terms of her role and value to the team, France needs her more than ever right now. This is no easy road that the French are going down. At the 2019 Women’s Worlds they are in Group B, which includes Sweden, Japan, Czech Republic and Germany. In order to avoid relegation Rozier and her teammates will need to finish better than at least two of those teams. Rozier is fully aware that anything can happen – she is embracing it and making the most of her chances.
“The most important thing I’ve learned about life from playing hockey is that anything could happen,” she said. “And it could all go away in an instant. So you have to push yourself up until the end, whatever happens!”