Ligue Magnus regular season over, play-off start tonight

Ligue Magnus regular season over, play-off start tonight

24 Feb 2012 | Chris Laparra
 

Defending champion Rouen tops rankings, Dijon and Chamonix make surprise with second and third place.

 
 
 
 

It was not really difficult to predict which team would finish at the top of the rankings after the 26 games regular season. As expected, Rouen finished at the first place in spite of a few bad games these past few weeks following the win in the Continental Cup superfinal. With the best offense in the league, Rouen is now the favorite to claim a third championship title in a row but will need a healthy Fabrice Lhenry between the pipes as the Team France goaltender has missed recently a few games due to injury.

It was much more difficult however to predict who would be the top two runner-up behind Rouen. In the last regular season game, Dijon won 5-3 in Chamonix, earning the second place while Chamonix would eventually finish third. Very would expect that these two teams, usually ranked in the 2nd half of Ligue Magnus would finish that high. Dijon success was based on a strong offense lead by the best offensive line in the league with Martin Gascon, Yannick Riendeau and Anthony Guttig. Gascon and Riendeau finished first and second in the scoring race. Experienced goaltender Ramon Sopko was a key factor too and the confidence of the team increased further with the win in the Coupe de France final against Rouen at the end of January.

Chamonix was expected to fight against relegation but quickly took the lead in the rankings. Many expected that Chamonix winning streak wouldn’t last long but Chamonix stayed among the three best teams all season long. The team success was based on Canadian forward Carl Lauzon and offensive defenseman Brent Patry who lead all defensemen in points scored in the league. Veteran captain Richard Aimonetto was at 39 still a major contributor.

Briançon finished fourth and is the fourth team directly qualified to the play-offs quarter finals. After winning the Coupe de la Ligue in December, Luciano Basile team had a few games off but managed to claim the fourth spot during the last day of the regular season with a OT loss in Amiens. Canadian forward Eric Castonguay proved to be a great acquisition last summer as he finished 3rd in the scoring race. Young Spanish goaltender Ander Alcaine was a curiosity at the beginning of the season but he convinced everybody that he had the skills to be a n°1 goaltender in a Ligue Magnus top team.

The teams ranked between 5th and 12th will have to go through a play-offs first round to earn a spot in the quarter finals.

It’s a disappointment for Angers (5th) who was clearly targeting the second place just behind Rouen. Even if Angers had the best defense in the league, the offense was too weak to expect a higher position in the standings. Morzine-Avoriaz (6th) had an overall pretty good season and the mix of several nationalities in the roster proved to be an asset as the offense was spread over all four lines even if Brad Smyth was eventually the team top scorer as expected.

Grenoble (7th) had a tough first half this season with injuries on key players like forwards Anthony Aquino and Francis Desrosiers or defenseman Baptiste Amar. The second half of the season was much better which allowed Grenoble to come back in the first half of the standings still far from the team expectations (a position among the first 4 teams) at the beginning of the season. However the post season seems promising. Amiens (8th) had also a very disappointing season as the team was clearly targeting a position among the top fourteam in the standings. But the eighth spot is nearly a miracle in the end for a team which was ranked not higher that the tenth place most of the season. Heikki Leime replaced Antoine Richer as  head coach during the season and has brought new energy to the team which could be useful for the play-offs.

Angers, Morzine, Grenoble and Amiens will all have home ice advantage in the play-offs first round.

They will face in the first round last year surprising finalist Strasbourg (9th), Epinal (10th), Gap (11th) and Caen (12th). Strasbourg and Epinal were expecting a spot in the top six at least but had several disappointing games in the second half of the season and have lost a few positions in the rankings in spite of a good start.  Gap had a difficult season without home ice and Caen managed this time to keep its spot in Ligue Magnus without going through the play-down which is already a strong relief for this team.

Newly promoted Neuilly-sur-Marne and Villard-de-Lans will be the two teams fighting for a spot in Ligue Magnus next season. The loser of the best-of-five series will be relegated to Division 1.

Play-offs :
Angers (5th) vs. Caen (12th). The winner plays against Briançon (4th)
Morzine-Avoriaz (6th) vs. Gap (11th). The winner plays against Chamonix (3rd)
Grenoble (7th) vs. Epinal (10th). The winner plays against Dijon (2nd)
Amiens (8th) vs. Strasbourg (9th). The winner plays against Rouen (1st)

Play-downs :
Villard-de-Lans (13th) vs. Neuilly-sur-Marne (14th)

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