The highest tier of professional ice hockey in France is Ligue Magnus.
It consists of fourteen clubs, each playing a relatively mild twenty-six game schedule from September to February. At the end of the season there are four rounds of playoffs. The clubs ranked 5th through 12th compete in a preliminary round, and the winners face the 1st to 4th ranked clubs in the quarterfinals; semifinals and finals ensue. The preliminary round, quarterfinals and semifinals are best of five, the finals best of seven. The winner of the finals receives the Coupe Magnus. The 13th- and 14th-placed clubs play a best-of-five series called the poule de maintien. The loser is relegated and replaced by the winner of Division 1.
There is also la Coupe de France, a competition involving the clubs of Ligue Magnus, and Divisions 1, 2 and 3 in a knockout format of six rounds played through the hockey season. This year's is the 21st edition. Briançon are the current cup holders. And there's a league cup competition open to Ligue Magnus teams plus two others to make 16. Rouen won last year.
France has a long hockey tradition. The country's first ice hockey club was founded in 1894, and its first national championship was staged in 1907. France's winningest club, Chamonix, started play the same year as the Montreal Canadiens. There are amateur hockey clubs all over the French hexagon, right down to the Pyrenees.
Ligue Magnus attracts a large number of players from Quebec, and other parts of Canada.
The teams in this year's Ligue Magnus are:
Gothiques d'Amiens. French champions 1999 and 2006. The Coliséum seats 2,882 and was actually built on top of Roman ruins. Colours: black, red and white. Canadians: David Bastien, Danick Bouchard, Martin Gascon, François Ouimet. Amiens is on the Somme in Picardy.
Ducs d'Angers. Red, dark blue and white. La Patinoire du Haras holds 1,033. Canadians: Michael Busto, Mark Isherwood, Jonathan Bellemare, Tim Crowder, Eric Fortier, Brian Henderson, Braden Walls. Angers is in the Loire valley.
Albatros de Brest. French champions 1996 and 1997. They play at Rinkla Stadium, capacity 1,100. Blue and red. Canadians: Michael Dupont, Thomas Evans, David Poulin, Daid Croteau, Nicholas Pard. Brest is at the tip of Britanny, due south of Cornwall.
Diables Rouges de Briançon. Founded 1934. Their rink the Patinoire René Froger holds 2,150. Red, white and black. Canadians: Sébastien Basaillon, Marc-André Bernier, David Labrecque. Briançon is in the Cottian Alpes right by the Italian border.
Drakkars de Caen. Founded 1968. Patinoire de Caen le mer can accommodate 1,499. Blue and black. Canadians: Jordan Dewey, Shawn Stuart, Jean-Christophe Gauthier, Thiery Poudrier. Caen is in Normandy, hence the longship.
Chamois de Chamonix. 30 times French champion, but not since 1979. Their rink holds 1,700. Yellow and blue. Chamonix is at the foot of Mont Blanc and has been associated with mountaineering and other winter sports since the 19th century. The 1924 Winter Olympics took place in Chamonix and the club took advantage of the Olympic rink to dominate French ice hockey through the 1920s. Canadians: Kyle Hardy, Brent Patry, Kevin Gadoury, Benjamin Rubin, Julien Tremblay.
Ducs de Dijon. Founded 1969. Dark blue and yellow. The Patinoire Trimolet holds 1,200. Dijon is in Bourgogne, the ancient kingdom of Burgundy. Canadians: Emmanuel Boudreau, Maxime Robichaud, Sébastien Gauthier.
Dauphins d'Épinal. This team traces its pedigree to a sports club founded in 1906, though they did not play hockey competitively until 1968. Bob Gainey coached the team in 1989-90, between starring for the Habs and coaching the North Stars. Team colours: Blue and red. La patinoire Poissompré holds 1,400. Canadians: Francis Meilleur, Maxime Ouimet, Benjamin Breault, Steven Caccioti, Dominic Perna. Épinal is situated on the river Moselle in Lorraine. Dolphins are not indigenous to the Moselle.
Rapaces de Gap. French champions 1977 and 1978. The Alp'Arena has a spectative capacity of 2,700. Yellow and blue. Canadians: Tim Boron, Collin Circelli, Maxime Griet. Gap is about fifty miles south of Grenoble.
Brûleurs de Loups de Grenoble. Founded in 1963 to take advantage of the facilities being built for the 1968 Winter Olympics. Wolf Burners is by far the strangest club name in the league, and perhaps all of hockey, so much so that you feel it must be based on a true event. Six times French champion. Blue, white and red. They play at the 3,496-seat patinoire Pôle Sud, the largest rink in the league. Canadians: Stéphane Gervais, Pierre-Luc Lessard, Francis Charland, Toby Lafrance, Félix Petit, Luc Tardif jr. Grenoble is in the French Alps overlooking the Rhône. Birthplace of Stendhal.
Pingouins de Morzine-Avoriaz. Founded 1963. Their rink holds 1,280. Red and yellow. Canadians: Andrew Hare, Carl Hudson, Joakim Arsenault, Chris Jones. Morzine is in the Alps, up against the Swiss canton of Valais.
Dragons de Rouen. Rouen have been French champions 13 times, all of them since 1990, and including last year. Their rink L'île Lacroix can handle 2,700. Black and yellow. Canadians: Gabriel Girard, Julien Desrosiers, François-Pierre Guénette, Yannick Riendeau, Marc-André Thinel. Rouen is in the Seine river valley, downstream from Paris.
Étoile Noire de Strasbourg. Founded in the year 2000. They play at the Iceberg, with seating for 1,250. Colours: yellow, black and white. Canadians: Yan Turcotte, Matt Lyall, Sébastien Trudeau. Strasbourg is on the Rhine, and looks across to Baden-Württemberg whose state colours are yellow and black. There's something very counterintuitive about a black star. Can you only see it in daylight?
Ours de Villard-de-Lans. Founded 1931. La patinoire André Ravix holds 2,000. Double blue and white. Canadians: Vincent Couture. Villard-de-Lans is in the Rhône-Alpes, a bit south of Grenoble. A bear appears on the town's coat of arms.