ASIAGO, Italy – From avoiding relegation to be crowned league champions in just over a month. Asiago Hockey experienced it this season and by doing so it won the third Italian championship in four years in a remarkable way.
It doesn’t occur that often that a final series is being played between the fifth- and sixth-seeded teams. The 2012/2013 Serie A season however proved that everyone starts even come playoff time and it only takes a hot streak to get you all the way. The Los Angeles Kings were the perfect proof in the NHL last year.
And with all the way, the coach and former national team player John Parco really went to extremes.
A very mediocre season in which the team ended up sixth in the ten-team league meant Asiago was forced to participate in a qualification round robin to make it to the play-offs. Although their point total taken with them into this second stage virtually excluded them from getting relegated it did mean they had to play in a mini league with the other bottom league teams for the three remaining playoff spots.
Five wins later, the yellow-red dressed team had assured a quarter-final spot. But facing last year’s champion Bolzano Foxes, nothing indicated that a fourth title in club history was in the making.
Goaltender Tyler Plante came up huge stopping all but one of the 57 shots he saw fired at him in the opening two games. As a result, Asiago was off to a kick-start in the series. Bolzano managed to win its next two home games but since Asiago did the same they concluded the series in six games after a convincing 6-2 victory.
After overcoming the first hurdle, Asiago’s second challenge came against the top team of the regular season, Pustertal Bruneck (called Val Pusteria in Italian). But despite being outshot in every single game, Asiago was red hot offensively and managed to score no less than six goals in each game en route to a devastating sweep of one of Italy’s top teams.
Those Italians who were awaiting warm temperatures in spring better had come to watch Asiago in the final series. There were no signs of cooling off and 12 more goals and two games later, Asiago was halfway completing their mission.
The scoring department took a day off during game three (4-1 loss), but returned two days later when Asiago ensured themselves a shot at the title after a 4-2 win.
With game 5 played in front of a packed arena in Torre Pellice, the home team seemed to have ensured a series extension when they managed to overcome a 3-1 deficit after 20 minutes to lead 5-4 with under two minutes left in regulation time.
But as per the saying, great players step up when it really matters and so did the trio of Sean Bentivoglio, Layne Ulmer and Chris DiDomenico. The three had already left a trail of destruction in the quarter-finals and the semis, and came up big in the finals again.
With 118 seconds left to play Sean Bentivoglio, an Italo-Canadian who hopes to be eligible for the Italian national team next season, tied the game up at five forcing overtime. Asiago did not waste any time in the 4-on-4.
Almost instantly from the puck drop, DiDomenico found Jeremy Rebek bursting down on the right hand side. The former Austrian national team defenceman squared the puck right in front of the goal where Ulmer and Trevor Johnson collided with Valpellice goaltender Jordan Parise. Both Valpellice players ended up in the goal but more importantly so did the puck causing a wild Asiago bench to erupt in joy.
Asiago’s top line contributed for 60 per cent of the team’s goals scored during the 15-game playoff stretch. Not surprisingly the trio also led in scoring during the playoffs amassing a massive 68 points altogether. Sean Bentivoglio captured the regular season top scoring awards, DiDomenico won the playoff scoring title and Layne Ulmer ended up as top goal scorer of the post-season.
Despite the loss, HC Valpellice, the most Western located Serie A team, can look back with pride on this season. With only two championships from the second tier to show for, the Bulldogs’ performance this season will be hard to match the coming years.
Apart from the gaining silver medals, Valpellice did not leave the season empty handed as they put a claim on the Coppa Italia back in January defeating HC Alleghe 7-3.