By Riley Brooks, for The Lambda
Sidney Crosby, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux: even the most basic hockey fans will be able to connect those names to the great game of hockey. They are three of the greatest players to have ever laced up a pair of skates.
Aside from their generational talent, one thing that those three players share is that they have all played hockey for their country – something that any hockey fan has dreamed of doing.
Many students would be surprised to know that right here at Laurentian is a student who has earned the opportunity on multiple occasions, to play hockey for his country of France – yes, France.
That student is 23-year-old Vincent Llorca.
When Llorca, or Vinny as his friends call him, isn’t maintaining an 85 percent average in mechanical engineering, he is captaining the men’s hockey team.
Llorca is from the small skiing town of Le Mont-Dore, France, five hours due south of Paris.
Le Mont-Dore is home to just 1300 people, roughly 500 more than the student population of Laurentian. France, like most European countries, is not a hockey-crazed country like Canada – rather, the people of France are more interested in soccer and rugby.
Despite the small popularity of hockey, Llorca began playing at the age of three and credits his father, Jean-Charles Llorca who lived in Canada until the age of 16, for getting him started.
Llorca wanted to play hockey so badly that most years he was playing for two different age groups, just to get some more ice time.
When Llorca was 19, he decided it was time to come to Canada to play junior-A hockey, where the opportunities and level of competition was a night and day difference.
Llorca played two years for the Nepean Raiders in the Central Canada Hockey League, made up of teams in the Ottawa area.
“People are way nicer,” Llorca jokingly said of the difference between France and Canada. “Not that people in France aren’t nice, people in Canada just go out of their way to be nice to you.”
Llorca also said that in terms of hockey, the biggest difference was that “players here are bigger and a lot more physical. Guys hit a lot more, and a lot harder.”
However, this was obviously not too big of a challenge because by this point, Llorca had already played some tournaments dawning a team France jersey for the under-16 and under-18 (years of age) tournaments. During his second year in Nepean, he was selected to play in the under-20 World Championships, or as we know it in Canada, the World Juniors.
His play in Nepean is what caught the attention of Voyageurs head coach Craig Duncanson, who recruited the tall and talented defenseman to join the reintroduction of the men’s hockey program at Laurentian after a 13 year hiatus.
He was voted as the first captain of this new era of Laurentian hockey by both his teammates and coaches and has continued his leadership role since.
It doesn’t take long for anyone attending a Voyageurs game to notice number 17 controlling the play and dominating the ice, while averaging 23 minutes of playing time per game.
It was that kind of play that earned him a spot during the Christmas break in his first year at Laurentian (2013) to play for team France in games against Slovenia. This time was different than before though, as these games he wouldn’t be playing against kids his own age.
This time, Llorca was playing with and against men who make a living playing professional hockey. He would also wear the colours of his country, something many hockey fans have only ever imagined. He was playing for a team that competes in the same group as team Canada in international ice hockey events.
“It’s a really good feeling,” Llorca said of the chance to represent his country. “It’s not really something you can describe. You feel a lot of responsibility and pressure to succeed. In Canada, people expect their team to win every time and it’s a disappointment if they don’t. For France, we are trying to prove that we belong there, even though our team isn’t made up of all NHL players like most of the other countries.”
Llorca said his international hockey aspirations are to get invited to play in the World Championships, an international tournament hosted every spring, and that “getting invited to play for the Olympic qualifying games would be awesome.”
So, if you see Llorca around be sure to say hello, or bonjour, because not many other people can say they know a guy they went to school with who has played professional hockey for their country.
-Photo by Kayla Perry