International Ice Hockey Federation

Target: survival

Target: survival

Italians hope to buck expectations

Published 06.05.2017 16:50 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
Target: survival
Italy's Giulio Scandella during the 2010 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, which was also held in Germany. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
Italy might be the lowest-ranked team in Cologne but the team is confident it can escape from the relegation showdown.

Italy is expected to be among the strugglers in this year’s World Championship. The country goes into the tournament with a world ranking of 18, the lowest in the 16-team competition. Making things even harder, its nearest rival according to the ranking, Denmark, is exempt from relegation this time around by virtue of hosting the 2018 edition. Even the tournament mascots, Asterix and Obelix, are renowned for overpowering the legions from Rome. The auspices do not seem promising.

But don’t tell that to Giulio Scandella. The experienced forward, now 33, has been in and around the national team for more than a decade, featuring in the 2006 Olympics among other highlights. And he believes that this roster has the potential to confound outside expectations.

“Nobody expected us to come up last year,” he said. “We know it’s a battle to stay up, we know it’s going to be hard, but we’re here expecting to find some results and stay up. We always go into the tournament in a positive frame of mind.”

Positive, yes; over-optimistic, no. “We know there are games we have a possibility to win, and games that would need a major upset,” Scandella added. “Those are pretty rare, but we can hope for the best. We know where the important games are, but you have to play well in every game to make sure you have that momentum for when those winnable games come along.”

Scandella, Montreal-born, is one of the last remaining dual-national Italians on the roster. Part of the country’s new era has been a deliberate shift away from scouting out North Americans with ancestors in the old country and switching attention to the talents emerging from Italy’s own hockey schools in the towns of the Alps. Despite being something of an endangered species in the team camp, Scandella believes this is the right way for the country to go.

“As much as Italos like myself have had this great opportunity to play in many World Championships and at the Olympics in Torino, this is very much the way to develop Italy as a hockey nation, to develop Italian players,” he said. “And our promotion last year shows that it’s coming to fruition even quicker than expected.”

As a veteran on the team, Scandella has more responsibility towards the youngsters, many of whom are taking the first steps on this kind of stage.

“I wouldn’t say it’s pressure. I know my role here, leading the way and kind of grabbing the young guys and helping them to follow,” he said. “I was 22 when I started with this team and back then we had a lot of great experienced players who helped me out. Now, whatever I learned from them, I’m trying to pass down the line and continue the tradition.

“I think from my experience the biggest thing can be who is playing on the other side. Our guys have played in a lot of games, a lot of big games, but when you face off with these elite world-class players, the kind of people you watch on TV, that can make young guys a bit more nervous. They tend to watch the game while they are on the ice rather than playing their own game and focussing on themselves.”

Italy sprang something of a surprise in the build-up to the competition. While most nations opted to fly into Cologne or Paris, the Italian roster chose to do it the old-fashioned way and came to Germany in a coach. At first glance, it might seem a retrograde step, but for Scandella the experience was more about bringing the team together.

“It’s a bit of a long drive, but it was alright,” he smiled. “It was good to get everyone together and it helped the team bond along the way.”

Come Saturday afternoon’s opening game with Slovakia, Italy will get the chance to show that the class of 2017 is on the right road.



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