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By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The French women’s national team remains in contention for a ticket to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. The team in blue completed its undefeated streak in its preliminary-round group on home ice in Cergy-Pontoise near Paris with a 8-1 win against Latvia and will travel to Tomakomai, Japan, for the Final Olympic Qualification.

The French finish the tournament in first place ahead of Italy, Latvia and China. They’ll travel to Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido in February for Group D of the Final Olympic Qualification where they will play Japan, Germany and Austria for a ticket to the Olympics. The other Group C will take place in the mountain resort of Arosa with host Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Norway, which won the other tournament this weekend on home ice in Stavanger.

Both tournaments will be played from 9th to 12th February. The winners will join the top-5 nations of the Women’s World Ranking – USA, Canada, Finland, Russia and Sweden – and host Korea in the 2018 Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament.

Emmanuelle Passard led the way offensively with two goals and an assist in the first period. The 24-year-old is one of four players from the national team who moved to study and play at the Universite de Montreal in Canada.

For France it was the fifth consecutive win against Latvia, which was looking to beat the French for the first time since hosting the 2004 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I in Ventspils where it edged out the French 3-2 to win bronze. It was too big a task and the Latvians even needed to win with a margin of at least two goals to reach first place due to their opening-day loss to Italy. The hopes to do so faded already early in the game.

At 1:46 Soline Fohrer opened the scoring with a solo. She got the puck at the offensive blueline, skated her way through and lifted the puck above goaltender Kristiana Apsite.

Apsite continued to be in the centre of attention as the French created the better scoring chances and played a strong puck-possession game. The Latvian goalie had several saves until the French doubled the lead at 5:48 when Emmanuelle Passard deflected a Lea Parment shot forcing the Latvians to take an early time-out.

The time-out was to little avail though. At 8:06 the team in blue hit the back of the net again on a two-on-one. This time Passard had the assist after a horizontal pass in front of the crease to Chloe Aurard, who shot the puck just under the crossbar.

At 11:12 Passard scored her second goal of the night on a rebound after a blocked Marion Allemoz shot. Only after the 4-0 goal did the Latvians have their first real scoring chances but the teams went to their dressing rooms with a four-goal gap reminding of the game players two seasons ago not far from Cergy-Pontoise in Rouen where the French blanked Latvia 7-0 at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A.

The French continued to romp in the second period. At 3:25 Lara Escudero made it a 5-0 lead when skating on the right side of the net to let go a shot from an acute angle. And 27 seconds later Betty Jouanny scored the sixth goal for the Frenchwomen.

The pace only slowed down once the French took penalties. Once the French had their first power play on their own, they converted it after just 18 seconds with a goal from Fohrer at 14:55 of the second period.

In the third period the Latvians had the better start and Agnese Apsite brought her team onto the scoreboard at 2:57. French captain Allemoz restored the seven-goal lead at 12:47 with a long shot to make sure the French converted their second power play of the game as well for the final score of 8-1.

Italy finished the event in second place in its strongest showing in many years. The lowest-seeded Italians beat Latvia 3-2 on the opening day but lost 3-1 to France. They confirmed their form with a 3-0 blanking of China on the last day. Latvia had to settle for third place while China went winless.