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When looking back at my junior hockey career with the Guelph Storm and London Knights the last place I figured I would be spending my seventh year of pro hockey would be in the Italian Alps. Not that I’m complaining by any means – I love the town I play in and the people who’ve made it such a welcoming environment for me. For most North American born hockey players the path to the Italian league is far from a straight shot. My path is no different.
I’ve always wanted to play in the Ontario Hockey League as a young child. Being brought up my dad always took me to see the St. Micheal’s Majors games and instantly my mind was made up. I was drafted in the 14th round to the Guelph Storm but always had the OHL as my #1 priority despite my extremely low draft position (Ryan Callahan was actually in the 15th round to Guelph that year, he’s had an OK career thus far…).
When I finally cracked the Storm lineup as a 17 year old the next four years lived up to all of my expectations. With two appearances in the Memorial cup (winning one) and the pleasure of being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 6th round, I couldn’t have asked for more in my OHL career.
The following years saw me make the jump to the AHL with the Rochester Americans and the Portland Pirates with a very brief call-up to the Sabres (never played but had a few great warm-ups!). In my third year with Portland disaster struck and my season ended early with a hip injury that required surgery. The worst part about the timing of this surgery was that it came at the end of my contract with the Sabres, I was not offered a qualifying offer and was left in a tough spot.
I hadn’t played a game in over 6 months with very few teams calling. I had a few offers in the ECHL, which I eventually would’ve gone to until my Dad had mentioned that he had run into an old coach from when I was a kid (Rick Cornacchia). At the time Rick was the coach of the Italian National Team and when he realized that my mom was born in Italy he started contacting teams in Italy to see if they would be interested in taking a chance on me and suggested that I look into attaining my Italian passport. Immediately I received interest from Steve Stirling (former New York Islanders Head Coach). Steve was newly appointed as the coach of Hockey Club Fassa. Without knowing much about the league or the town I jumped at the opportunity to play for a coach with Steve’s resume and so began my European adventure.
After playing for such first class organizations previously I knew that it was going to be an adjustment making the move to an Italian hockey team in terms of the atmosphere and facilities that we are accustomed to in North America. However, what I didn’t realize was just how much of an adjustment I would need to make.
The major differences I’ve dealt with playing in Italy have been came to Italy the time of practice, travel, and of course the cultural differences. When comparing most of the arenas in Italy to those back home I’d say they’re similar to some of the Tier 2 Jr A arenas in Toronto (think St. Mike’s or Herb Carnegie Memorial in Toronto). In Italy, practices are at night due to the fact that most local players have other jobs during the day. What this means for the imported players is that there’s plenty of free time to grab a workout in the morning or take online classes which I’ve been doing for the past 3 years.
Travel in the Italian league is pretty good. Our loop has us making one 7 hour trip to Valpellice and a 4 hour trip to Milan. Besides those two trips the rest are 3 hours or less and 2 spots that are under an hour. One drawback of the travel is that a lot of the towns we travel to are through some pretty twisty mountain roads. If you are prone to getting carsick this can be a pretty big challenge.
As far as the quality of hockey goes most of the imports that are here have AHL experience or have excelled in the East Coast Hockey League or Central League. The players that come to Italy are all normally pretty skilled and are expected to contribute or will not have a very long stay. The quality of local players varies from team to team. Our team is fortunate to have some depth up front, we have a few Italian forwards that are currently on the National Team or have played in the past. We have two local D-men that contribute in a large way to our top 6 as well. We currently have 9 imported players, 4 forwards, 4 defensemen and myself (Goalie).
A normal day for myself includes waking up around 9-9:30 and going to one of my teammates bars for a Cappuccino and a Brioche (croissant). Then depending on the day I will head to the rink to get a workout and return home for lunch and a few hours of homework before going back to the rink for practice.
We normally have 2 games a week with 3 at the most and never back to back. There is no shortage of good food here, a major challenge for myself has been limiting my pizza intake. Also, siesta is common in many European cities so if you have anything that you need to get done not related to lunch, you need to plan around the 12:30-3:30pm time frame. Everything shuts down so people can enjoy a 3-course meal, even time for a nap if you feel like.
My experience in Italy has been great and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The small village of Alleghe where I’ve spent most of my time has been nothing but accommodating to my fiancé and myself. The town is so picturesque and the people love their hockey. It has been a pleasure, and still is, coming here for my hockey season. I really do consider it a second home. I can’t speak for players on other teams but I can say my experience with Hockey Club Alleghe has been nothing short of memorable and would recommend it to anyone considering Italy in their future.
Here are a few pictures of the town and arena, enjoy.