The Cholet club marked its transition to Division 1, since it joined this level 25 years ago, even if it had an interlude in D2 between 2001 and 2013! Last season the Cholet club even reached the D1 final, making it the peak of the club’s history.
It is in the heart of the Glisséo ice rink in Cholet, in his office, that Julien Pihant, coach of the Dogs, receives Hockey Archives for an exchange on the preparation for this new season.
Hockey Archives: Julien, you have been involved in the Cholet club for 17 seasons now. You are now part of the historic members of the club, so that means that you are having a good time there. So it’s fun.
Julien Pihant: Yes clearly, in the club we work in continuity and the same direction. This pushes us to question ourselves in order to progress each year. We started from the last D2 places at the time to reach the D1 final last year, the path was long and strewn with pitfalls, but it is an honor and a pride to participate in it on a daily basis. .
HA: How did this work lead to this final?
JP: It’s true that it has been an extraordinary year. Beyond this final, we also broke the record for consecutive victories in the league. 14 wins is the best result of a team in D1. I think this level has been achieved through continuity over the past three years. We have changed a lot of things in the context of recruitment and in the work with the players. We also rely on a medical staff and a physical trainer who are present daily. The guys are well taken care of and just have to focus on the hockey.
On the recruitment side, we relied on CVs but also on everyone’s way of working, and this was felt positively. The guys were immediately supportive and quickly bought into the project.
The victories that followed reinforced confidence and we reached the final. But it could also have changed to the 5th quarter-final match against Épinal. It would have given us a taste of unfinished business. In the semi against Nantes, we were excited because it’s a derby and we love them for us and the Cholet public. I think our humility allowed us to win this series 3-0. In the final, against Brest, we can only have regrets about our first two games in Brest where we were not up to the event. The two games at home were remarkable, but Brest were very strong and deserve this title, congratulations to them.
Honestly, it’s been an amazing season. Everyone had an incredible season, players, staff and managers. Work and cohesion made all the difference in this result. In the end, we aroused interest and enthusiasm in the city of Cholet, and that we are proud of!
HA: Can you give us the first info on the construction of the band and the preparation?
JP: The group is finally finished. We had a complicated off-season and we are not the only ones to testify to it. It’s still just as difficult to recruit good French players, despite our good results. The sellers of dreams are still present around us… We suffered the departure of four players to Magnus and others for better financial conditions in France or abroad. It’s a sign that shows that we are doing a good job with our players and that they are becoming very attractive to other clubs.
Around our hard core, in whom we have complete confidence, we have rebuilt the team with young French players full of potential and ambition, supervised by very good foreigners. But it took much longer than usual, because the last signings were made at the beginning of August while in general the team is finished at the beginning of June. COVID and the war in Ukraine certainly have something to do with it.
Our camp starts on August 29 and we will play 6 preparation matches there.
HA: We can note the arrival of Valérian Mathieu, a very dynamic player, in Strasbourg In particular?
JP: He is a player who can be described as ultra-talented, who has experienced misadventures in his non-sporting youth, but now it is behind him. We will provide him with stability and the framework to meet his ambitions. He clearly has the potential to return to Magnus. Now it’s up to him to find the means.
HA: How do you and the leaders see the future of the Cholet club? We know that the rise to Magnus is unthinkable for the vast majority of D1 clubs. How do you plan: going to win the title this time or producing even more young people to strengthen the D1 pro team?
JP: We want to continue the momentum of recent years. If we can win the title, we will not hide, we will try to win it. Our workforce has been further rejuvenated with the integration of six young people who come from the junior circuit and we want to give everyone the opportunity to be able to develop and aim higher, in higher championships, such as the Magnus or even at the ‘foreign. Our good relations with Angers, within the framework of the blue licenses, allow us to give playing time in U20, D2, D1 and Magnus, which is excellent for the development of our young people. If we are given the Angers school club label, we won’t have any ego problems!
HA: Angers has indeed become a big organization in France. How is the collaborative work between the two clubs going?
JP: Since the 2010/2011 season we have been working in partnership with the aim of developing young people. Since last season, the desire to work together has grown even stronger. We want to bring players up to Magnus, not to increase numbers, but to play. We are particularly delighted that Tarabusi and Couturier were able to play more than ten games each with Angers last year.
The best example of our collaboration is Baptiste Couturier who did his minor course in Angers, then he benefited from the blue license system for 5 seasons, taking on more and more responsibilities with us. This season, he will have a starting place in the Magnus League with Angers. All this is rewarding for both clubs and it proves the quality of the work produced by the two organisations.
HA: Precisely, how do you see the future aspect of the development of young French people, when we see that our border neighbors are making efforts to reach the high international level?
JP: I think everyone has an idea, but it would take all of that to make something interesting out of it. Moreover, our President is now part of the Steering Committee of the federation and I am convinced that he will help in this direction.
But for me, the main obstacle that we have to overcome is the distances and the costs that this generates in the miner. We are sorely lacking in infrastructure. An ice rink is opening in Saint-Étienne, and we can be happy about it, but all the other big projects are on hold…
For development, I think young people have to go through D1. Apart from the dominant internationals in the U20, many need to toughen up. It’s a good championship, very dense, with very tight matches and where you learn a lot. Each D1 team should have a Magnus club to work together. Not easy, even impossible given the geographical situations of each, but the transition to D1 for our young people seems essential to me these days. A simple example with Grenoble last year which had 6 or 7 French holders who benefited from blue licenses to play in D1 in previous years.
HA: You spent several years playing for the Dukes of Angers, the new stature of the club must be a real satisfaction for you?
JP: Yes, moreover I am someone very faithful in life. I had a training club (Viry), then a pro club (Angers) and now a club to continue my coaching activity. But Angers is my city, I live there and I have very, very good relations with the members of the club. We are happy and proud to see Angers evolve in the most beautiful ice rink in France and we are waiting for the title in Magnus which should not be long now!
Behalf Hockey Archiveswe wish you good success during this new season and thank you for taking your time to discuss.