At the 2006 Winter Olympics, the host nation of Italy went with a Canadian-born netminder turned Italian in Jason Muzzatti to lead the charge against the rest of the field. This included playing Canada in the very first game in front of a sold out crowd at the Torino Palasport Olimpico.
Before first coming to Italy in 2001, Muzzatti was an NHL first round draft pick and played in 62 games mainly with the Hartford Whalers. His appearance in net for Italy in 2006 has left a trail that has been followed by more and more North Americans.
Since the Olympics in 2006, the sport of hockey has received much more attention in Italy and is growing every year especially in the northern region of the country. Professional hockey players originally from Canada and USA who have Italian relatives are beginning to come over more often now to represent Italy internationally.
Adam Dennis is now the latest Canadian-born player to play for Italy. Adam had a very successful four years of junior hockey accumulating a 100-45-9 record playing with two powerhouse teams in the Guelph Storm and London Knights. The highlight of his junior career was winning the Memorial Cup in 2005 with London on a team that included current NHL star Corey Perry. He became the first goalie to post a shutout in the championship game when he turned away 27 shots to defeat Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic 4-0.
Dennis went on to become a 2005 draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres (182th overall) and spent the next three seasons in the AHL playing with the Rochester Americans and Portland Pirates. The Toronto nativeís only taste of the NHL to date was a brief call up to backup Martin Biron with the Sabres for a few games in November 2006.
In his 2008-09 campaign with the Portland Pirates, Adamís season came to a premature end with a hip injury that needed surgery. When the offseason came around the Buffalo Sabres failed to tender a qualifying offer to Dennis making him a free agent. After only getting a few offers to play in the ECHL, he decided to take up an offer of playing in the Italian League and begin the process of getting an Italian passport in hopes of one day donning the Azzurri blue in international competition.
Since making the initial trek to Italy, Dennis hasnít looked back. He has spent the majority of his time in Italy playing for Alleghe, a small town of 1,500 that is known for its skiing and mountain climbing resorts on the nearby Monte Civetta. Adamís stats have improved in each season since coming to Italy and his coach has consistently labelled him as one of the teamís leaders.
The 2012-13 campaign was the best season for Dennis since coming to Italy as he was the top goaltender in the Serie A with a terrific 2.13 GAA and .932 SVS% in 43 games for Alleghe which finished 4th in the league standings. That is very impressive considering the Italian League is getting stronger every year and Adam was battling against fellow former NHL goalies in Justin Pogge, Jean-Sebastian Aubin, Andrew Raycroft, and Josh Tordjman.
This season also marked his debut with the Italian National Team as he was chosen to play on the squad that fell just short of qualifying for next yearís Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Dennis played only in one game during the tournament but it was definitely the most memorable one for his Italian side as they went up against the top seeded and host nation Germany. Adam was nothing short of spectacular making 36 saves in a valiant effort upsetting the Germans 2-1 (OT) in the process and was named ďPlayer of the gameĒ for his efforts.
Unlike Muzzatti, who was 35 at the 2006 Olympics and nearing the end of his career, Adam Dennis is still quite young at 28 and entering the prime of his career so we could very well see him in goal for the Azzurri for many years to come.
Adam will next be representing Italy at the Division 1 Worlds this April in Budapest, Hungary. IIHF.com caught up with him recently to ask some questions.
How did you start playing hockey/goalie, and at what age?
I began playing goalie in house league when everyone got a turn in net. During my turn, the coach from the select team of kids a year older than me approached my dad about me playing goal for his team. After a little convincing I took part as a full time goalie and it ended up sticking.
Describe your playing style?
I like to think of myself as a composed goalie that moves well with a good ability to read the game.
Are you satisfied with your career so far?
I am satisfied about my career so far. Of course I would love to be playing in the NHL but I have had many big accomplishments and wouldn't trade them for anything.
What are some of the best moments for you in Hockey?
Winning the Memorial Cup, being drafted in the NHL, and competing for Italy at the international level.
How is life in Italy compared to life in Canada? Do you ever go back to Canada in the offseason?
Life in Italy is a lot more laid back. People aren't as rushed to get things done as they are in Canada. I get back every summer to see my family and friends in Toronto.
What made you go from the AHL to playing in Italy?
I made the move to Italy after having hip surgery in the last year of my contract with the Buffalo Sabres. I didn't have many offers from other teams so I decided to give Europe a try and pursue a chance in Italy and the National Program.
Why do you think more and more players are coming from Canada/USA to represent Italy internationally?
I think it is a great opportunity for guys to play for their country. I'm fortunate enough to come from a large family with one side being Italian. This gave me the platform to get to know the other side of my family tree.
Talk about the process it took in getting an Italian passport and being able to represent Italy internationally?
This was a long process and to be honest without the help of some great people in Alleghe it would have been much more of a headache for me than it was. At the end of the day my mother was born in Italy which is where I get my heritage.
Do you feel that the sport of Hockey is growing in Italy?
I definitely think that the sport is growing. With Milan returning to the Serie A it adds one more large market with a good fan base which is only positive for hockey in Italy.
After the recent Olympic Qualifications, how pleased were you with your nationís performance?
I was very happy with our play. It was bittersweet since we didn't end up qualifying but I think we turned a lot of heads.
Looking forward what are some of the goals for your National Team?
The next step would be to have some success in the Div. 1 Worlds and hopefully move back into the A pool.
Will you be playing for Italy at the Division 1 Worlds in April?
I would love to if they have a spot for me!
Where do you put yourself on the National Team depth chart with Daniel Bellissimo and Thomas Tragust?
That is for the coach to decide... I do think that we have a good group of goalies all who can give the team a chance to win.
Will you ever go back to North America and try to make the NHL?
If the right opportunity came up I would definitely be up for it.
NHL Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Childhood Idol: Kirk McLean
TV Show: Modern Family
Home-cooked meal: Lasagna
Activity Away From the Rink: Skiing