International Ice Hockey Federation

Seeking survival

Seeking survival

New-look Italy turns to local talent

Published 04.05.2017 18:17 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
Seeking survival
Stefan Mair led the new-look Italian team to the top division. Will they be here to stay? Photo: Miroslaw Ring
Back in the top tier for the first time since 2014, Italy brings a new look to Cologne. But Stefan Mair's young team faces a battle to survive this year.

When Italy was relegated from the Elite Pool in 2014, 10 of its players were dual-nationals. Today, the roster has a far stronger Italian accent as the squadra azzurra puts its faith in local talent. Back at the top level, the team faces a battle against relegation – but can point to progress towards forging a new Italian identity. This season’s roster draws heavily on the Italian teams involved in the Alps League and HC Bolzano, Italy’s representative in the Austrian EBEL.


Andreas Bernard has held down the #1 spot at Finnish team Assat Pori for the past two seasons, gaining valuable experience of life in the Liiga and cementing his status as Italy’s first choice between the piping. He’s backed up by the experienced Frederic Cloutier, 35, a Quebec-born goalie playing in Italy since 2007. Youngster Gianluca Vallini rounds out the trio.


Thomas Larkin, born in London to an American father, might look like the kind of imported Italian that the team is keen to stop relying upon. In reality, though, he moved to his mother’s homeland as a young child and learned his hockey in Varese before hitting the US College circuit. Two seasons in the KHL with Medvescak Zagreb came to an end in the spring and Larkin, 26, moved on to Adler Mannheim of the DEL. Elsewhere on the blue line, there’s plenty of experience. Armin Helfer, 36, will be involved in his 16th World Championship campaign and was part of Italy’s roster at the Turin Olympics. Bolzano’s Alexander Egger, a versatile player who has also been seen playing as centre, is back for his 10th campaign.


Italy has a young forward line in this competition, with only Giulio Scandella (33) topping the 30 mark. Like Helfer, he played Olympic hockey in Turin in 2006. The absence of Joachim Ramoser, the country’s leading goalscorer in Poland last year, is a miss. Players like Luca Frigo, Raphael Andergassen and Tommaso Traversa are among the players who have won a place on the national team since Italy’s last top-flight adventure in 2014. Anton Bernard, another player with Bolzano connections, has worn the ‘C’ for his country since 2015. The two Kostners, Diego and Simon, are not brothers. Diego, 24, is the son of Thomas, currently head coach of Italy U20s; Simon, 26, plays for his father Erwin’s Ritten Sport team in the Alps League.


Stefan Mair, previously head coach at Schwenninger Wild Wings of the DEL, has been in the job since 2014, combining his international responsibilities with a role as head coach of Swiss second-tier team Hockey Thurgau. In that time he’s overseen the rebuilding of the country’s roster, giving greater opportunities to young players emerging from the national program and clinching a top-tier return with a second-placed finish in Katowice 12 months ago. This will be his first attempt at coaching in the Elite Pool.

Projected results

Like any newly-promoted team, Italy’s first task is to remain in the top flight. The nation was once a fixture at this level, enjoying an unbroken run from 1992-2002, but it last avoided relegation back in 2007 and has been up and down ever since. Italy’s hopes of stepping off that elevator this time are hampered by the fact that Denmark – the next lowest seed in Cologne – cannot be relegated before it hosts next year’s championship, upping the pressure on Mair’s men. The May 9 meeting with Latvia and the concluding group stage game against the Danes on May 15 will be crucial for the team’s survival prospects, while the experience of facing the likes of Russia, Sweden and the USA will be a fantastic opportunity for Italy’s younger players to test themselves at a whole new level.


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