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Valentin Claireaux a forward for surprising French team at world championship
French forward Valentin Claireaux (12) celebrates after scoring against Finland during their preliminary-round game at the 2017 world hockey championship in Paris on Sunday. Claireaux is from St-Pierre.
©IIHF photo/Matt Zambonin
There are no Newfoundlanders or Labradorians playing in this year’s world hockey championship — Teddy Purcell of St. John's was the last from this province to participate in the event last and that was five years ago. However, there is a player competing who has skated in minor hockey games in Newfoundland.
He’s Valentin Claireaux, a forward with France’s national team who scored a goal in one of the biggest results in French hockey history, a 5-1 win over Finland in Paris on Sunday.
Claireaux, 26, is a native of St-Pierre and Miquelon, the French islands just off the Burin Peninsula. Far removed from the metropolitan France (Metropole), hockey players from the small islands have long found competition in Newfoundland. For example, St-Pierre teams compete annually in Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial Eastern tournaments; one of its entries recently won the gold medal at the all-Newfoundland bantam B tourney in Gander.
As well, St-Pierre players regularly take part in clinics and camps conducted in Newfoundland.
It’s the system in which Claireaux developed before he left for Amiens, France at the age of 15 on a study-athletics program. He remained with Amiens teams, beginning with the under-18 program before working his way to the city’s entry in France’s top national circuit. This past season, he headed to Finland to join Lukko in the Finnish elite league.
A centre/right-winger, Claireaux has played extensively for France in international competition and suited up with the French national team in the 2015 world championship.
Claireaux is not an anomaly. Despite its small population, and the fact there is just one rink and a minor system that includes only two team streams (nicknamed Cougars and Missiles) per age-group division, St-Pierre has quite a few hockey players skating at various levels in France.
They include winger Nicolas Arrossamena, a three time French champion who has played for his country internationally, including the 2011 world championship; defenceman Gary Lévèque, who appeared in the 2009 world championship; Mathieu Briand, who has also played with French national side; Nicolas Siegfriedt, Dylan Artano; Emmanuel Alvarez-Magana; and goaltender Quentin Kello.
And while he wasn’t born in St-Pierre, French defenceman Jonathan Janil, a teammate of Claireaux’s at the world championship and Kello’s cousin, maintains strong ties to the French islands. Janil’s father is a native of St-Pierre, he still has relatives there whom he visited regularly in his school days and he always proudly speaks of his connection to the remote part of France.
Three Newfoundlanders have played for Canada at world men’s hockey championships, the first being George Faulkner of Bishop’s Falls, who led the Canadians in scoring as they won a bronze medal at the 1966 world tourney.
Daniel Cleary of Harbour Grace was part of Canada’s 2002 entry that finished sixth in Sweden, and Purcell competed for the Canadian team that was fifth at the 2012 event in Stockholm and Helsinki.
Dwayne Norris of St. John’s won a silver medal with Canada at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, but wasn’t part of this country’s national team that won gold later that year at the world championship in Italy.
And Harry “ Moose” Watson, who was born in St. John’s, won a gold medal with Canada’s 1924 Olympic team.
Most recently, Sarah Davis of Paradise has played for Canada in the last three women’s world championships, winning silver each time.
More than a half-dozen former members of the American Hockey League’s St. John’s IceCaps are playing in this year’s world men’s hockey championship in Cologne, Germany and Paris.
All played for the IceCaps when the team was affiliated with the Winnipeg Jets.
Forward Mark Scheifele and defenceman Josh Morrissey, who were with IceCaps teams in Calder Cup runs, are on Canada’s roster; goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is with the United States; forward Ivan Telegin is skating with Russia; defencemen Arturs Kulda abd Ralfs Freiberg is with Latvia; and forward Carl Klingberg is with Sweden.
Forward Sven Andrighetto, who played with the IceCaps this season before the parent Montreal Canadiens traded him to the Colorado Avalanche, would have played with Switzerland but is sidelined with a groin injury.
Note: Updated to show Arturs Kulda is with Latvia