Finding the recipe for Mannheim

Italy is back among the elite nations - and wants to stay

23.11.2009
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Rick Cornacchia is looking for the recipe to stay in the top division with Italy. Photo: Max Pattis

Italy, along with Kazakhstan, will stage a comeback in the top division of the IIHF World Championship in May 2010 in Cologne and Mannheim, Germany.

The Division I experience was short for the Azures when they beat the likes of Ukraine, Poland and Great Britain to return to the elite of the hockey world after a one-year absence.

Rick Cornacchia – a Canadian with a playing and coaching career in Italy – was named head coach last year and is preparing the team for the new challenge in Germany.

But, the first event of the new season wasn’t promising as Italy lost to Division I nations Hungary (6-1) and Slovenia (3-1) at the Pannonia Cup in Hungary and won only one game against Croatia (7-0).

What can you say about the results in Hungary?
The Euro Ice Hockey Challenge was a wake-up call for our team. We must play better, smarter and more determined to be successful. We did not generate enough scoring opportunities in the first two games. We will address this at our next gathering in Asiago in February. We were able to evaluate some new players in Hungary. We got stronger in games two and three which is very positive.

The World Championship starts in six months. What needs to be done?
The players know that we are playing in the top division of the World Championship and that the key to Italy's success in the World Championship in Germany is their physical preparation. We tested the players and found the strengths and weaknesses of each. Our strength and conditioning coach will put together a program for each player. The players must follow the program during the next few months in preparation for May.

What is the recipe to stay in the top division?
The key is to play as a team like we did in Poland last year. We need a strong goaltending, a commitment from the defence and forwards to play a strong team game, believe in the system and play with confidence.

You’ve been Italy’s head coach for more than a year now. What are the positives and negatives?
Everything has been very positive. The staff is committed to providing an environment that will allow the players to be successful. The meetings are well organized by Gianfranco Talamini, in good facilities and with excellent accommodations. The players are professional and good to work with.  The only negative was not qualifying for the Olympics in Vancouver.

What can Italy learn from Canadian hockey?
There are a number of development initiatives that we can mirror in Italy. The coaching levels and player development at camps. The summer hockey academy which was started by Mickey Goulet is an excellent development tool for the players and coaches. At the National Team level creating a "ghost roster" philosophy, which has been used in the past by the national team coaches, could be good to. Also, using the same philosophy as Canadian hockey for national team camps.

Is the cooperation with the clubs in Italy good?
The clubs have been very cooperative. They make their players available and encourage the players to participate in the national team events. The coaches have provided honest and accurate feedback on their players.

What does Italian hockey need to do to improve?
There are three things that must improve in Italian hockey: 1. The current players must play a meaningful role on their current teams. One can not expect players playing on 3rd & 4th lines for their club teams to play on the 1st & 2nd line on the National Team.  2. Get more players playing at a young age, create a larger pool of players. 3. Provide better and more coaching for the youth players. One coach can not be affective for 20 players during a practice. Specific positional coaching for goalies, defencemen and forwards is critical for development.

Why doesn’t Italy have dominant forwards?
Players require skill development and games to become dominant players. Italian forwards for the most part are not put in a position of responsibility on their teams. It is not reasonable to ask players to score goals at the international level when they are checkers on their club team.

Do you think that there will ever be an Italian-trained player in the NHL?
Thomas Larkin getting drafted by the NHL last year was a big step. He is playing very well at Colgate University this year. This will get NHL teams interested in Italian hockey and hopefully more players drafted.

What would you call your biggest accomplishment as a coach?
Winning the World Championship Division I last year in Poland was an outstanding accomplishment for the Italian national team. When a team overachieves, it is very satisfying for a coach especially when very few people believed that this was possible.

MASSIMO MAGGI
The interview is published with the consent of the Italian Ice Sports Federation.


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