International Ice Hockey Federation

Highlight year for Kostner

Highlight year for Kostner

Ice sport family from Italy hopes for success

Published 10.05.2017 14:09 GMT+2 | Author Martin Merk
Highlight year for Kostner
Simon Kostner plays his first top-level IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship for Italy. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Forward Simon Kostner is enjoying every second at the elite level and hopes that Italy can stay in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

Doing so is no easy task, though, as the team understood before the start of the tournament. After two years in the second tier and with an on-going rebuilding process focusing on talent from the domestic hockey system, the Italians are back as underdogs.

One of the players on the team is Simon Kostner, who hails from an ice sport family in Gherdeina, an Alpine valley known by different names among its mostly German and Ladin-speaking communities.

“It’s super here in Cologne. It’s my first time and I’m really enjoying this time. The city is great, so is the hotel. To be among these top players every day is a unique experience for us and we’re really enjoying it,” Kostner said.

While not related to teammate Diego Kostner, Simon’s father Erwin Kostner was a long-time hockey player for the Italian national team and HC Gherdeina. Today he is an assistant coach on Simon’s club team in Ritten and the head coach of the U20 national team. Erwin Kostner’s highlights include playing in the 1984 Olympics and the World Championship top division in 1983. His mother was into figure skating. And their children inherited their sports genes. Simon Kostner’s sister Carolina won the 2012 World Championship, several European Championships and Olympic bronze in Sochi 2014 in figure skating.

“When we were little, we were often at the ice rink. My mother always said that the rink was like a nanny for us. She sent us onto the ice and went shopping at that time while we had fun,” he remembered of his childhood.

For the 26-year-old it’s the first time in an international event at the top level. Last year he made his IIHF debut with the men’s national team that earned promotion to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship together with Slovenia.

Kostner plays his club hockey for Ritten Sport, which hosted the IIHF Continental Cup final before winning the Italian championship as well as the cross-border Alps Hockey League. He’s one of two players from the club here.

“I really feel good in Ritten. It’s my third year there and since I arrived I felt well accepted. I almost feel like a Rittner,” Kostner says about the Italian champion.

“That makes it great fun to play there. The team is a group of close friends who give everything for each other.”

Most Italian players come from smaller towns in northern Italy. The village of Klobenstein (or Collalbo in Italian) where Ritten plays is not far from the South Tyrolean capital of Bolzano but about 1,000 metres higher up a winding road. Only about 1,400 people live here and there are barely 8,000 in the community of Ritten that includes 17 villages on the high plateau of the same name. And, like several other players, Kostner doesn’t make his living from hockey alone.

“I still live and work in Gherdeina. It’s just half an hour, so it’s no problem for me to drive up to Ritten every day,” says Kostner, who is building up a parallel career besides hockey. “I’m self-employed in communications and social media for smaller companies.” He prefers to work on social media profiles for companies rather than for himself. That suits his character better.

Following his father and his sister – and former skier Isolde Kostner, who’s also related to the family – Simon Kostner is starting to hit the international spotlight as well. Earlier he tried his luck abroad as a 15-year-old junior. He played for Adler Mannheim in the top German junior league DNL. Then he moved to Jyvaskyla and played in the top Finnish junior league before two seasons with the farm team in the second men’s league and four games with JYP Jyvaskyla in Finland’s top competition, the Liiga. Since 2013 he’s been back in Italy.

“If I got another chance to play abroad, I’d of course be happy to take it. For players it’s definitely a goal and a motivation to move to a higher league,” he says about his ambitions. “I’d like to get a chance. We’ll see.”

One reason he’s part of the national team is also that the “squadra azzurra” changed its face. The Italian federation wants to build more on homegrown players rather than the naturalized Italians who were selected in the past. The authorities are sticking with that decision, even if it means more time outside of the top- 16 nations than in the past, when relegation usually was followed with immediate promotion back to the top division. The Italians missed out on promotion in 2015 but made it one year later.

“For a couple of years there has been more focus on homegrown players on the national team. The team is pretty young but I think you can see the first fruits,” Kostner adds.

“We have some difficulties in scoring goals now but that will come. When you come to the national team right now it makes fun to play. All guys who are there are more or less in the same age group. We are all good friends and that helps on the ice. When one makes a mistake there are others who try to iron it out. That’s a very important thing for a team.”

He tried everything to make the national team, and now he’s in Cologne.

“It’s been a life-long dream since my father told me his stories from the World Championships in his era. Since then it has always been a goal and dream to take part at the World Championship and compete against the best players in the world.”

The only thing that hasn’t worked out yet is winning games. Besides being steamrolled by Russia, 10-1, the team suffered tight losses against Slovakia, 3-2 in overtime, and against Latvia, 2-1 after conceding a late goal. That makes the goal of staying at this level for next year even more difficult.

“It’s a pity. It was our opportunity to gain points and we did everything to do so but like in the first game we came up just one minute short,” Kostner says about the last game against Latvia.

Today against Team USA and later against Sweden, Germany and Denmark, the Italians have four more opportunities to surprise in Cologne.

“Many teams here certainly have more experience than us. Our strength is to play as team and to always stick together. Like that we have a chance to win a game here or maybe two,” Kostner says.

“We’ve seen that not much is missing. We’ve always been close expect against Russia, that’s another story. We have the possibility to take points here, we just have to continue working on it and stick together, then it will work out.”


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