The bloom’s not off these Rozenthals
Friday, 24 August 2007
Originally published on IIHF.com in 2002
By Lucas Aykroyd
Virtually every hockey nation boasts a celebrated pair of brothers. Russia has Pavel and Valeri Bure. Sweden takes pride in Daniel and Henrik Sedin. For the USA, there was Joey and Brian Mullen. Now France is getting into the act with Maurice and Francois Rozenthal.
The 26-year-old identical twins are mainstays on the French national team, providing flash and dash on left and right wing respectively. In France’s Olympic opener against Switzerland February 9, Maurice put on a clinic in finesse hockey, scoring twice and setting up Philippe Bozon for a goal off a beautiful end-to-end rush. The 3-3 result was far better for the French than most observers had expected, since Switzerland is widely considered one of the top eight hockey nations in the world. France made the Olympics thanks to its fifteenth-place seeding from the 1999 IIHF World Championships in Norway.
“I am disappointed with tonight’s result, because every time we managed to get ahead of them in the score, they came back,” Maurice told IIHF.com. “Now, in terms of skill, they are superior, but in terms of competitiveness I think we were much more present. Of course we would have preferred a better finish, but we’re happy to have gotten a point anyway.”
The French finished 11th in Nagano, and they currently languish in Division I of the IIHF World Championships, but Maurice is optimistic that they can do better. The team that suffered relegation at the 2000 Worlds in Russia has done some growing together.
“There are a lot of players here who were also there,” explained Maurice. “This is a team that has basically been together for the last three years, with a few new players. It’s a team that’s starting to show its potential. Right now, we have the misfortune to be relegated, but I think we’ll be back soon because we have a super bunch of guys.”
The 177-cm, 77-kg sharpshooter has looked pretty super himself in the French “Ligue Elite” in recent years, capturing the league MVP award three straight times from 1999 to 2001 with Amiens. But this season, he and Francois elected to take their act to Bjorkloven in the Swedish Superallsvenskan (the second division).
So far, the move has paid dividends. In 37 games, Maurice has accumulated 17 goals and 17 assists, while Francois has chipped in 10 goals and 10 assists.
“It’s a good league,” said Maurice. “Sweden provides a reference point for us, like Canada and many other good hockey countries. It’s helped us to build up to a new physical level. Even if it’s in the second division, it’s still important for us to change our surroundings and pursue a new championship.”
One of the Rozenthals’ most impressive teammates is veteran forward Aleksandrs Belavskis, who leads Bjorkloven with 66 points. Belavskis is representing Latvia at these Games.
“He’s a great player,” said Maurice. “He’s great on the ice and off the ice. We learn a lot from him, the way he carries himself and trains away from the rink. For me, along with Philippe Bozon, he’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with.”
Competing in his second Olympics, Maurice Rozenthal has already surpassed his 1998 performance (pointless in four games). After saying “au revoir” to the Swiss, he hopes his compatriots will enjoy a “bon voyage” against Belarus and Ukraine.
“To succeed here, we need to play our best game. Now we have two games to go, and we’re going to do everything we can to qualify for the Final Round. We have to take each game as it comes and not start looking ahead of ourselves. We still have two very strong teams to play. It’s not as if Switzerland is the one big piece of the puzzle. There are three big pieces.”