If you’ve watched Chloé Aurard take a shift, you’ve already seen that she knows her way around a hockey rink. She is always hunting down the puck, always looking to dish a pass through a seam, always thinking of what the next play should be.
She’s got a great feel for the game. So it might surprise you to know that the first time she can remember stepping out on the ice, she was a little confused.
“I started by skating with figure skating skates, and I was always wondering where my hockey stick was,” Aurard said.
It didn’t take long for her to just grab a stick and start playing, or for those around her to realize how good she could be with one in her hands. Over the last couple of years, Aurard has starred at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship, led her Vermont Academy team to the NEPSAC Division II title, and burst onto the college scene at Northeastern as a rookie, playing immediately on the Huskies’ top line. She’ll be a player to watch for Team France as they make their very first appearance at the top level of the IIHF Women’s World Championship this week.
While most people may not think of France as a huge hockey country, Aurard hails from Villard-de-Lans, a small town that loves winter sports, especially hockey. Both her parents, her older brother, and her twin sister all played hockey when she was growing up.
“Everyone knows everyone in my town,” Aurard said. “Since hockey was really big, my dad and mom knew a lot of hockey players and a lot of hockey coaches. Since they also both play hockey, they were really connected to the hockey world in my town so we used to all of us go to games at night, and we used to watch a lot of hockey as a family.”
That fostered a lifelong love of the game for Aurard. She actually used to want to be a goalie when she was younger, but says her first coach noticed right away that she seemed to have a nose for the puck, and put her up front.
As she started to climb the hockey ranks in France, programs in North America started to take note of her as well, and she was offered the opportunity to head to Vermont Academy in Saxtons River, Vt. for high school. Her and her twin sister, Anaïs, went together, which helped a lot with learning English and getting used to some of the culture changes.
It was also the first time Aurard had played on an all-girls team; she typically played with the boys in France, so she had to adjust to a game with no open checking. By the time she was a senior at Vermont Academy, in 2017-18, she was growing into a bigger role with the team and leading them through the playoffs.
“I think she really started to mature in a sense of who she could be as a player, and a leader in the locker room, too,” her Vermont Academy coach, Lisa Marshall, said of that final prep season. “I don’t think she’d ever realized either one of those roles and so I think that was more of the conversations I had with her, as opposed to her hockey skill.”
Marshall didn’t take up the head coaching job at Vermont Academy until Aurard’s final season, but she got to know quite a bit about her during that time anyway. She realized almost immediately how much Aurard loves hockey; Marshall says she was at the rink all the time, and she was the kind of kid who’d be shooting pucks in basements, or walking around campus with her hockey stick. That directly translates to her strengths on the ice.
“People usually say I have a hockey mind,” Aurard said. “I always watch hockey, I always think hockey, even when I’m in classes. So I think the fact that I can read hockey really quick, and using the speed of reading where I’m going to put the puck before getting it, I think I can really use that. Especially at the top level now, the game is faster, so moving the puck fast is a good thing.”
Marshall was doubly impressed with Aurard’s character off the ice, too.
“She’s got a lot of intent and everything she does comes with a purpose,” Marshall said. “She’s a really remarkable person and far beyond the player that she is, she’s an even better person.”
Aurard said it was Marshall who instilled some of that love for the game in her—or at least brought it out more fully. Juggling training with school full-time can be draining for any player, and Aurard says there were times when she grew a little tired of the routine.
“[Marshall] made me realize that hockey is just something we love, and that sometimes it’s not the fact that you win or lose a game, it’s the fact [that you] play with people that you won’t play with ever again, or meeting different people, and just being happy at the rink,” Aurard said.
Aurard led Vermont Academy to the NEPSAC Division II championship and the Lakes Region championship in 2017-18, and was named league MVP. Still, she didn’t come into college as one of the most highly-touted rookies, despite her success in prep school and some good performances already with Team France. She quickly turned heads, though, once she arrived at Northeastern, and put up 12 goals, 19 assists, and 31 points while playing on the Huskies’ top line this year. She was named to Hockey East All-Rookie Team and ranked in the top 10 in freshmen scoring nationally.
“I knew she had the tools; I just didn’t know how quickly she would adapt to the college game because it was a big jump,” Northeastern head coach Dave Flint said of Aurard. “So coming in, I knew she was going to be good. I just didn’t know how quickly she’d adapt, and she adapted really quickly and has done really well.”
Flint, too, has taken note of Aurard’s passion for the game, and so has France women’s national team head coach Grégory Tarle.
“I think, for her to play hockey, it’s like natural,” Tarle said. “She has the hockey sense. It’s not something she learned, you know? It’s in her.”
Aurard already has plenty of experience with the French national team. She played on the Under-18 Team at the World Championship three different times (once at the top level, twice at the Division I level). She made her first appearance at the IIHF Women’s World Championship with the senior team in 2015. She’s played in three World Championships since then, plus the Olympic qualification tournament leading up to the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
“My first year with the senior national team, the older people made it pretty easy,” Aurard said. “They just put me in a good environment where I could be myself and play as myself and not be shy, you know, be the youngest person [on] the team. I think the fact that it’s like a family; it’s not like we have groups on the team that don’t talk to other people. Everyone talks to everyone and we just try to make people feel comfortable so we can just play hockey and enjoy it together.”
France is not a traditional hockey powerhouse, but has slowly climbed up the IIHF rankings and performed better and better at the Division IA World Championship. Last year, they won the tournament and earned a promotion to the top division for 2019. This will be France’s very first time competing at the top level, where they’ll join the Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, and Sweden in Group B.
Still, Tarle feels like they are ready to handle the challenge of playing at the highest level. Several players have picked up valuable experience playing outside of France, including collegiate hockey in the United States and Canada, and the SDHL in Sweden.
“I think it’s a big thing because when they come back with the French team, they come back with experience; they come back with intensity of the game they play so I think it’s a big thing,” Tarle said. “We work very hard each game. We [have] a good team spirit. Players are motivated to play for the French team.”
Team France also learned some valuable lessons along their journey to winning the Division IA World Championship. They missed out on qualifying for the 2018 Olympics, but picked themselves up after that to take home the World Championship title.
“We didn’t get down, we really believed in one another, and I think it really helped us to win,” Aurard said. “Because the games were tough, but everyone knows when to step in, and I think that we have three big lines that can score and can defend really well. So I think that just playing as a team made us win.”
For Aurard personally, there’s a lot she’s learned while leading the way at Northeastern this year that can help her with Team France over the next couple of weeks.
“I think my speed is different now because going from high school to college the speed is really different. So I think I can use my speed in Team France,” she said. “And when I get the puck, I know what to do with it before even getting the puck on my stick. And just like really loving the game. This year, I really loved each and every game and I think that just loving every game and just having fun is going to make me have a good tournament.”