Ritten’s Elite

Club from South Tyrol celebrates first ever Italian title

28.04.2014
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The Ritten players celebrate after earning their club’s first championship. Photo: Luca Tommasini / Hockeytime.net

COLLALBO, Italy – History is written in Italy. For the first time in history the championship trophy is to be found in the winter sport area of Ritten. In the league’s inaugural season under its new name Elite A, SV Ritten defeated Pusteral Bruneck in six games.

The final between top-seeded Ritten and third-seeded Pustertal wasn’t a comfortable one for the home- side fans. The first five games of the series were all won by the visiting team leaving home ice advantage to be a questionable bonus.

That peculiar statistic might find its roots in the fact that SV Ritten hadn’t managed to reach the league finals in eight years while Pustertal had to carry the knowledge of having lost their previous three league finals.

“I’m simply overjoyed by the fact that we finally managed to clinch the title,” lifelong Ritten forward Emanuel Scelfo said delightful. “This season everything seemed to come together.”

In the series that saw two former NHL goaltenders, Jean-Sebastien Aubin and Chris Mason, tend the nets, Ritten drew first blood winning 4-1.

Pusteral rebounded with a narrow 2-1 victory themselves before founding themselves on the wrong end of a 6-2 score in game 3.

With nearly 3,000 fans anticipating another Ritten victory, veteran Armin Hofer had different ideas. His goal 10 minutes into overtime secured his team’s second 2-1 victory to tie the series at two.

Nevertheless Ritten was not heartbroken. Similar to game 1 and 3, they left the Pusteral Arena with a victory and in doing so earned themselves the first opportunity to clinch the best-of-seven.

They got off to a dream start when Patrick Rissmiller scored from close range within the first 90 seconds. Instead of sitting back defending the lead, Ritten continued to push Pusteral back into their own zone. Eventually the pressure paid off when Matt Siddall converted on a 4-on-3 power play to double the lead.

The smallish but atmospheric arena was completely rocking when Cory Urquhart made it 3-0 early in the third period. Pusteral was able to ruin Chris Mason’s shutout performance with a late Cristian Borgatello goal, but that joy was short lived.

With the finals lost, and the fans counting down the clock, Luca Ansoldi hit an empty netter to cap the final score; 4-1.

After having undergone a tradition beer shower, Ritten head coach Rob Wilson was able to talk to the media and reflect on the successful season. “I think we truly deserve this title. Over the course of the season the players have formed a great team and today’s game was a perfect example of that,” he said in soaking clothes. “I don’t think I had to prove anything to anyone,” he responds to claims about the criticism he received in recent years of lack of success. “I don’t care about the past, nor is the future. I want to enjoy this moment.”

Albeit quite a distance literally and figuratively from the NHL, Chris Mason pretty much liked his first season in Italy. Perhaps best shown when he dressed up in a traditional South Tyrol outfit. “Rarely have I been this exuberant,” he claimed. “This past year has really been one of my highlights of my career. From my first day here, me and my family have felt very welcome and I’m only confirmed in my decision to come over here,” said Mason, who finished the playoffs with a 95.1 save percentage.

Where there are winners, there are also losers. After yet another wasted chance to claim gold, the responses from the Pustertal dressing room are surprisingly realistic.

“The most disciplined team has won,” goal scorer Christian Borgatello admits. “We made too many mistakes and took too many costly penalties.”

Also head coach Mario Richer was not looking for excuses for the loss. “The players gave everything and there’s not much to blame them for. Sooner or later this team will become champions, hopefully I’ll be behind the bench then.”

For SV Ritten the 2013/2014 season gets an additional golden lining since they also won the Coppa Italia this season. On December SV Ritten and Pusteral needed penalty shots to decide on the first prize of the season. Luca Ansoldi concluded the shootout to see Ritten’s name engraved for the second time on the cup.

Back in 2009 they won the Coppa Italia for the first time. Their opponents that game… Pusteral.

JOERI LOONEN

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