Much has been written about the history of our local hockey team, which formed in 1963. Success has been variable over the decades and they last played in France’s premier ‘Magnus’ league in 2015. Merging with Chamonix hockey club to form the Pionniers de Chamonix-Morzine in 2016 proved ill-fated and for a combination of reasons, the club tumbled from the upper echelons of professional French ice hockey.
Until now. At the end of the 21/22 ice hockey season, manager Stéphane Gros lead his team to league victory in the national Division 2 during an unforgettable night at Morzine’s Skoda Arena. Securing promotion to Division 1 is just the next part of the journey for a manager who one wore the colours of our local team. We wonder what he’s got planned for the 22/23 ice hockey season…
Stéphane, after completing your climb to D1, did you have the opportunity to take a break?
“Having finished the season quite late, we had to immediately rebuild the team for this year and prepare the club to move to the next level. Then I took a well-deserved vacation after a long and stressful season!”
What preparations did you make during the summer months? And do we have any new players to watch this season?
“Despite our victories in D2 last season, our analysis showed our team would have had an average level of performance in D1. The objective was therefore to re-engage a large part of the while team, those who know each other and above all get along very well. This will be the major asset of our success for this first season: group cohesion.
It was of course necessary to reinforce this team with new characters; new players who could, very quickly, integrate into our group. So, I recruited two new Canadian forwards, Brett Redford and Nolan Ross (brother of Davis Ross, an established defender in our team), who know each other well, having played together at university. Then joined a new leading defender, Reid Yochim, also Canadian, who finished last season in the Norwegian elite league, at the same level (or perhaps even higher!) than the Magnus league. It was also necessary to recruit new JFLs (younger, locally trained or home grown players) who have performance experience in Division 1. With Jeoffrey Couvat from Cholet, a finalist of the last championship, Alexis Hermant, a young player trained in Mulhouse and who participated in the Magnus play down and finally Paul Cerda with four seasons in the NCAA and a last one in Slovakia, I think I have created a competitive and competitive team.
When we resumed the new season in September, we had bad news with the injury of Tomas Marcinek, who will be out until the end of December. It was therefore important to find a replacement. We had a good opportunity with Czech striker Tomas Kubalik, who was free from any contract. Tomas will be a player to follow this season as he has a lot of experience, especially in the USA at the highest level in the NHL but also in the biggest European leagues.”
What is your goal for this new season?
“Like any new season, we’ll start it with a lot of determination and ambition. We know it will be complicated, but we have what it takes to succeed, whether it’s sporting or structural.cIn the short term, we will have to learn to compete at this new level. In the medium term, it will be necessary to settle in with the top performing teams of this division.”
Do you feel the expectation of the rest of the village on your shoulders?
There is not necessarily a great pressure from the village on our shoulders, but indeed a great expectation. Hickey Club Morzine-Avoriaz, having performed for many years at the highest level, has followers and fans that are impatient to see high quality matches once again at the Skoda Arena. We must not disappoint them; we’ll fight at each game in order to honour all the Morzinois who support us so much.”
How do you motivate the team before each game?
“Before each game, there is a lot of work so that the players are in the best condition. I always do an analysis of the opponent and I present it to them in the form of a video, so that they know their strengths and weaknesses well. Then it’s a question of emotion, especially when we play in front of our home crowd. So I try to transcend them and give them all the confidence they need to be successful.”
Even for visitors with no knowledge of ice hockey, a visit to the Skoda Arena is a fun experience. Why do you think this is?
“I think that for people who don’t know ice hockey, coming to the Skoda Arena is a great experience for our tourists. They will discover a fast and spectacular sport. Whenever we meet people who come for the first time, they are impressed by this sport but also by the show around the ice. During their vacation, it is undoubtedly an evening not to be missed.”
How can the village best support the team this winter?
“The community in our village is already doing a lot for us. Whether in terms of partnership or support us on game nights. We hope to have lots of people following us throughout the season. Last season was exceptional in terms of results but it will surely be different this year and the supporters will have to support us even in difficult times. But I don’t doubt that for a second.”