Hip hip, Huet!
Hip hip, Huet!
Record 18 years of World Championships
“I feel fortunate to be able to still play and be competitive,” he said during a relaxed conversation on an off day for the French national team, away from the rink. “It’s tough for me to say no to the French team. It’s always a pleasure, especially with the success we’ve had the last few years. It’s exciting to come here. It was tough for a long time.”
Indeed, it was. From 1992-2000, the French played in Pool A, but between 2001 and 2007, it played only once at the highest level, languishing for the most part in Division I.
Huet was part of that first wave of success, continued to be part of the team during its down time, and has been a key part of the resurrection since 2008, when it again has remained in the top pool every year.
Incredibly, Huet and Tim Thomas of the United States share the distinction of having the longest World Championship careers in IIHF history. They both have 18 years between first and last appearance, and since Huet has not yet retired, he might well establish a new mark next year.
“I have one more year left on my contract, [in Switzerland] and maybe another one – I’m thinking about it – I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t look too far ahead. My body feels good. My head is in the right place. I like what I do. We’ll see.”
Huet was born in Saint-Martin-d'Heres, a suburb of Grenoble. He started playing goal in a way so many goalies do.
“My brother was a forward,” he explained, “so we always used to play outside, in the streets, with his friends, who were all older. They always needed a goalie, and I liked it, so that’s how I started.”Continue reading
Huet was the first French goalie to play in the NHL and the first French player to win the Stanley Cup, which he did with Chicago in 2009/10. As a result, he was also the first person to bring the Stanley Cup to France.
“That was exciting,” he explained. “I had it in my hometown, and then because it was the first time the Cup was in France, we took it to the Eiffel Tower. The crew was nice enough to let us go up first. The Cup and the tower – it was two great old ladies together!”
Huet was a late bloomer in many ways. He grew up and played his junior hockey there, and his early ambitions were modest at best.
“My goal when I was young was to play for my hometown team,” he continued. “When I left for Switzerland, I was 22. Some people started to ask me about going to the NHL, but I thought I wasn’t good enough. It was a very long process for me.”
The first part of that process was playing in the World Championship in 1997 at the age of 21, an unforgettable experience for the young goalie.
“I remember our opening came was against Finland at the new arena, Hartwall. They had a good team, but it was a good experience for me. It was eye-opening to me to see how good the guys were at such a high level. I knew I had to work a lot more to get to that level.”
Huet had a good start to his career in Switzerland, but it wasn’t until he was 25 that he was selected 214th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2001 draft. By that time he had already played in four World Championships as well as the 1998 Olympics.
“My goals were always achievable, but I came long way to get to the NHL,” he said. “I had a good reputation in Europe, but I started at zero when I was at my first NHL training camp. I just tried to be in good shape and be ready for anything, give myself a chance to play.”
Huet’s first NHL game came on 20th February2003, a 5-0 loss to the Flyers. He allowed two goals in 15:17 of play.
“I came on relief, in Philadelphia,” he recalled. “I remember my first save. I had the time to think when the puck was on its way to me. I said to myself, I better stop this one!”
He played 12 games for the Kings that year and half the season the year after. After the lockout, he joined the Montreal Canadiens for three seasons before being traded to Washington. His last NHL time was a two-year stretch with the Blackhawks, 2008-10, during which time he was the number-one goalie over the course of the regular season.
He and Philippe Bozon are heroes in France for their outstanding careers, a fact Huet is proud of in the context of inspiring the next generation of players.
“For me, it was Bozon, and when I was in the NHL, I think people looked up to me, and now we have a few others there. It’s important to make kids think and believe they can do it if they work hard.”
Incredibly, Huet earned his first career shutout with the national team in IIHF competition just the other day, a 2-0 win over Austria on 5th May.
“I thought I had a shutout with the national team before,” he said. “I didn’t know. The game was so tight that I didn’t think about a shutout at all. It was just important for us to win the game. I had no time.”
Not true. Time, it seems, he has plenty of, which is why French fans hope to see him playing in Russia next year.
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