Ligue Magnus preview

Ligue Magnus preview

24 Sep 2011 | Chris Laparra

Ligue Magnus has started with defending champion Rouen again as the clear favorite to claim a third title in a row. As last year, Angers, Briançon and Amiens should be the runner-ups who will try to stop the best French team for the last two years. Team-by-team review.


Last season Rouen had a nearly perfect season with 3 titles: Ligue Magnus, French Cup and Champions Trophy. The "Coupe de la Ligue" was the only missing trophy for the Rouen Dragons as they were eliminated in semi-finals against Briançon (Grenoble eventually won that trophy). This season Rouen will host the Continental Cup finals and this will be the major event of the season  but keeping Ligue Magnus title remains also a big priority. During the off season, Rouen has lost some key players like French forwards Jonathan Zwikel, Teddy Da Costa and Luc Tardif but kept their main strengths in offense with Carl Mallette, Marc-André Thinel, François-Pierre Guénette and Julien Desrosiers while veteran goaltender Fabrice Lhenry decided to play one more season.

However the defense had to be fully rebuilt with the departures of the 3 Swedish defensemen: Jens Olsson, David Holmqvist and Calle Bergström while Daniel Babka will play in "pre-retirement" with Rouen second team. These losses were compensated by the hiring of experienced defenseman Darcy Werenka, Team France blueliner Antonin Manavian and Richard Demén-Willaume who should anchor the defense while Jean-Philippe Paré and Loic Lamperier are back in Rouen to add some offense. Finn imports Teemu Elomo and Jimi Santala also joined the team. However the loss against Grenoble in the Champions Trophy (1-6) showed that no game will be easy for Rouen this season.

Last season surprising finalist,  Strasbourg, will try to repeat. After a 11th ranking at the end of the regular season, Strasbourg eliminated successively Epinal, Gap and Angers to reach the final and eventually lose in 3 games against Rouen. "L'Etoile Noire" will have to confirm a new status. To achieve this, head coach Daniel Bourdages managed to keep Jan Cibula and David Cayer who played a big role in the post-season. Continuity will be the key of Strasbourg success with only 3 main changes in the roster: Timo Kuuluvainen, Kevin Young and Blake Gallaher who are replacing Juho Lehtisalo, Ziga Svete and Paul Bradley.

Both semi-finalists Angers and Amiens have the ambition to go one step further this year. It was a disappointment for 2009-10 finalist Angers to end the season in semi-final and without any trophy.  Angers head coach Martin Lacroix was fired and Jan Varady from Everett (WHL) was hired instead, following the advice of Kevin Constantine who was Angers head coach at the beginning of last season. Beyond this, continuity will be also the key factor for Angers this season. The roster has not really changed with only three key losses in defenseman Antonin Manavian, forward Pierre-Luc Laprise and goalie Peter Aubry. They have been replaced by Jean-François David, Nicholas Romano and Andrej Hocevar. Angers will be again a strong contender this year.

Amiens reached last season the semi-finals for the first time in 5 years. To go one step further, Amiens has brought in defensemen Angel Nikolov and Kyle Sibley along with forwards Jaroslaw Rzeszutko and Jake Morissette. But Amiens had also key losses during the offseason with Paul Deniset, Miroslav Pazak, Pawol Kowalczyk and Team France defenseman Kévin Hecquefeuille who has joined Servette Geneva. Confirming last season semi-final is a minimum objective for Amiens.

Another major contender will be, as every year, Briançon. "Les Diables Rouges" have put aside their financial issues and find new ambitions after an early exit in quarter finals last season. Briançon kept sniper Marc-André Bernier and team captain Edo Terglav while bringing in Canadian defenseman Steve Vanoosten and forwards Eric Castonguay, Jean-François Caudron and Braden Walls. The big question mark will be in the net with young Spanish goalkeeper Ander Alcaine replacing the experienced Ramon Sopko.

Grenoble won Ligue Magnus title in 2007 and 2009 but suffered a first round exit last season with a young team. Some experienced players like Ludek Broz, Ludek Krayzel and Viktor Wallin have left while team coach Jean-François Dufour has replaced them with Canadian imports: defenseman Sylvain Dufresne comes from Italy along with forward Anthony Aquino. Both should follow the steps of Canadian defenseman Alexandre Rouleau and Slovenian forward Mitja Sivic who are key players in the team. Francis Desrosiers and François Ouimet also joined to bring more speed and intensity in the game. This seemed to work during the champions trophy with a bright 6-1 win against Rouen. But Grenoble success this season will also depend on the performance of new goalie Ronan Quemener who comes from Gap to replace Eddy Ferhi, the goalie who has led Grenoble to so many titles these past 5 seasons. The health of team captain Baptiste Amar who suffered a serious ankle injury last season will also be in question.

Gap has lost its starter goalie but also its home ice as a new arena is being built to replace the previous one. During this period, Gap will play in Marseille where a new arena has just been created. To replace Quemener who left to Grenoble, Gap has hired in net Mike Zacharias. Forwards Sébastien Gauthier and Stanislav Lascek will support Jiri Jelen and Jiri Rambousek in the offense but "les Rapaces" will have a hard time to repeat last season performance when they finished the regular season at a surprising 3rd place. Gap will also have to manage without damage a lot of travel time this season without any game on home ice.

Morzine-Avoriaz has raised a lot of eyebrows during the offseason with an ambitious policy in the transfer market. Scott Matzka was supposed to be the offensive star but had to finally decline for personal reasons. Instead, Morzine opted for experienced Canadian forward Brad Smyth who will be a curiosity in Ligue Magnus this season as well as Russian defenseman Yan Golubovsky who will resume playing after one year away from the rinks. With forward Toni Koivunen assisting head coach Santeri Immonen,  Morzine will have a lot of experience on and off the ice. Koivunen is among the only 7 players kept from last season roster. Again Morzine roster will be a combination of several nationalities with 5 players from Finland, 3 from Canada, 2 from Russia, 1 from Sweden, 1 from the US and 1 from UK. It may take some time to get things going but Morzine could become a serious contender when spring comes.

Epinal has finally a brand new rink after playing two seasons in a temporary one limited to 500 seats. This is a kind of new start for this club who tried to sign a naming agreement with Dark Dog during the summer without success, at least for now. Santino Pellegrino is still the head coach and has kept most of his roster from last year with goalie Loïc Lacasse and key forwards Maxime Boisclair, Michal Petrak and Jan Plch. Mikko Jortikka, Toby Lafrance and Chad Lacasse bring new blood to "les Dauphins" who will try to confirm the 6th spot reached at the end of last regular season, the best ranking in club history.

Chamonix finished 8th last season but was eliminated in the 1st round by neighbor Morzine. This has led the club to change some imports (Tobiasson-Harris, Torgersson, Pullki) but also local players (Kevorkian, Igier, Geffroy) and replace them by North-American players : Simon Lambert, Francis Charland and Justin DaCosta are joining Carl Lauzon and Brent Patry. Talented French forward Clement Masson is also a key addition to the team. French veterans Richard Aimonetto and Laurent Gras will bring again a lot of experience on and off the ice.

Dijon has finally a new head coach! Historical coach Daniel Maric left for Lyon where he will take care of minor hockey. Jarmo Tolvanen is the new head coach and this will be his first job in France after several positions in various European countries. With Maric departure, a lot of players have left, mainly the ones from Slovakia hired by Maric (Kristin, Strapaty, Bozik, Kvetan, Trokan). To compensate these losses Dijon has brought in some confirmed but still rather young French players (Quessandier, Pain, Kevorkian, Custosse) and count on Division 1 top scorer Martin Gascon to score goals. He should form an interesting duo with Yannick Riendeau who stays with the team. In net, Dijon has made the steal of the off season with former Rouen and Briançon goalkeeper, the experienced Slovak goaltender Ramon Sopko.

Villard-de-Lans also had a coaching change during the off season. Former team France forward Stéphane Barin decided to leave "les Ours" after 6 seasons as player and then coach. Rich Metro, an American forward who played in Villard-de-Lans during 7 seasons (2001-08) is taking over. He served recently as assistant coach with Lake Superior State in NCAA and this will be his first experience as head coach. To make sure Villard-de-Lans will keep its spot in Ligue Magnus, Metro has brought in some North American imports (Nick Canzanello, Scott Thauwald, Vincent Couture and Danick Bouchard) along with Slovakian forwards Michal Beran and Peter Szabo. These newcomers will try to compensate the big loss of Jean-Christophe Gauthier who was last season top scorer on the roster.

Caen secured its spot in Ligue Magnus during the play-down round last season against Mont-Blanc. This avoided "les Drakkars" to go back directly to Division 1, one season after being promoted. In order to repeat the same performance, Caen has added to the roster Villard-de-Lans sniper, Jean-Christophe Gauthier who will join Canadian defenseman Jean-Philippe Paquet. Because of the loss of Team France forward Jeremy Romand who faced a serious injury, Caen had to hire Joe Buicko to support the offense along with countryman forward Jeremiah Cunningham. For Caen, the objective will be to avoid the relegation round but that may not be easy.

Neuilly-sur-Marne is back in Ligue Magnus, one season after being relegated. "Les Bisons" have created a big surprise in Division 1 finals against the clear favorite and winner of the regular season, Brest.  Head coach Frank Spinozzi will try to replicate in Ligue Magnus the success obtained in Division 1 with a big challenge as Neuilly never managed to keep its spot in Ligue Magnus on the ice with the two only seasons ended at the last position. To achieve this, Neuilly has kept some key players : Anthony Pittarelli, Juho-Tuomas Appel, Martin Malat, Steven Cacciotti and Lukas Pek. Offense should be strong but defense may be the weakness especially as goaltender Kévin Desfossés left the team. Billy Blase will have the big task to replace him. Neuilly had good results in pre-season and that may be an indication that this Ligue Magnus season may end well for Neuilly…finally.

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