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Olympic Hockey Preview 2006: Italy
By BRIAN PIKE, MOP Squad Sports Hockey Editor
Feb 18, 2006 - 3:32:00 AM

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2006 Men’s Olympic Hockey Preview: Italy

2002 Result: Did not qualify for the 2002 Olympics.
Since then: First place in IIHF Division I group B championship.


Players are listed in probable combinations with their Italian league city or European club team with country in parentheses.

Forwards (LW-C-RW):
1.    Tony Tuzzolino (Ornskoldsvik, Sweden) – Giulio Scandella (Asiago) – Jason Cirone (Asiago)
2.    Luca Ansoldi (Ritten) – Lucio Topatigh (Asiago) – Manuel De Toni (Alleghe)
3.    Stefano Margoni (Bolzano) - Tony Iob (Klagenfurt, Germany) - Stefan Zisser (Bolzano)
4.    Giorgio De Bettin (Cortina) – Joe Busillo (Milan) – Mario Chitarroni (Milan)

Extra: John Parco (Asiago)

1.    Bob Nardella (Rockford, UHL) - Armin Helfer (Milan)
2.    Michele Strazzabosco (Milan) - Christian Borgatello (Milan)
3.    Carter Trevisani (Asiago) – Andre Signoretti (Cortina)

Extra: Florian Ramoser (Bolzano)

1.    Jason Muzzatti (Bolzano)
2.    Gunther Hell (Bolzano)
3.    Rene Baur (Brunico)

Key Performer: Bob Nardella. At 38, Nardella’s getting a bit long in the tooth, but the veteran of Italy’s 1998 Olympic team in Nagano and he’s one of the only players on this team with significant experience in North American hockey. Born in Illinois, Nardella spent six seasons, and parts of two more, winning two Turner Cups in the old IHL, at the time considered the second best league in the world, and a Calder Cup once the Wolves joined the AHL when the IHL folded. Nardella couldn’t overcome a lack of size to make it in the NHL (he’s 5’9 and 170 pounds), but he’s led the attack from the blueline everywhere he’s been, from Ferris State University to Alleghe in the Italian League to Chicago and most recently to the Rockford Icehogs of the United Hockey League. He’s the only defenseman with past Olympic experience and may well end up playing a lot.

How They’ll Win:

1.    Home ice advantage can be a fairly nebulous thing, but expect the Italian crowd to go wild every time their team does anything. Everyone knows Italy’s here because they’re the host city, and much like the Japanese team in 1998, they’re more than a little overmatched. But the Italians have an extremely rare opportunity to not only play in the Olympics, but to be the home team. The Italian team will certainly feed off the crowd’s energy and play hard.

2.    Unless you were a hardcore Hartford Whaler fan in the mid-1990’s, the name Jason Muzzatti probably doesn’t mean much to you. Muzzatti played 62 NHL games, 53 of which were for Hartford from 1995-1997, and acquitted himself well on some pretty lowly Whalter teams. After bouncing around the AHL for a while, Muzzatti moved to Germany and Finland before settling in Italy for the last five seasons. Calgary thought enough of him to make him a first round draft pick in 1988. He’s no Dominik Hasek, but he could have an impact.

3.    Italy has a lot of players who’ve played together a great deal this season. Five guys play for the same Italian League team in Asiago, another five for Milan, five more play for Bolzano, and three play for Cortina. What’s more, these teams are the best in the same 10-team Italian league, so they’ve got some additional familiarity from playing each other four times a year. In a short competition where the best teams are often the ones that come together the quickest, that’s an advantage.

How They’ll Lose:

1.    There’s a reason why most of these guys have never gotten a sniff from the NHL. That may sound a little harsh, but in these days of thorough European scouting, it’s not as though Italy is going to spring a lot of surprise talent on the opposition. Nine of these guys were born in Canada, two more in the United States, but that doesn’t mean they’re better players. There’s simply not a lot of elite-level talent here, certainly not enough to stack up against the favorites in this tournament.
2.    Italy’s defense as a whole is quite small. Only one guy, Strazzabosco, is over 200 pounds. Trevisani (6’1), Ramoser (6’2), Helfer (6’3) and Strazzabosco (also 6’3) are all over six feet, but the other three are all under 5’10, with Signoretti listed at just 5’5. Can a defense this small really be expected to contain big, strong forwards like Canada’s Todd Bertuzzi and Joe Thornton? It seems doubtful.

3.    While there’s a lot of optimism for a lot of the lesser hockey programs at this tournament, who don’t have a lot of talent but do have a youthful core who’ll be getting a lot of experience here, Italy’s core is anything but young. Key players Muzzatti and Nardella are 36 and 38, respectively. Lucio Topatigh, who’ll be playing in his fourth Olympics, is 40. Eight of Italy’s forwards are over 30, and while there are six guys on the team who are under 25, Italy could really use a coherent national team program with some young blood if it wants to improve as a hockey nation.

The Bottom Line: Italy will be doing their best to stay out of last place in this tournament. They won’t be able to.

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