Don't ask Dad
by Andy Potts|15 MAY 2019
Italian defenceman Luca Zanatta clears the puck.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
When your dad has coached in the KHL, you might think that a phone call to the folks would be the first place to get some advice about playing against Russia at the World Championship. Italian defenceman Luca Zanatta is not so sure, though.

“He already tried two years ago but it didn’t really go too well. I think this time I’m not going to listen to him,” he laughed. The last meeting between the two came in Cologne and ended in a 10-1 victory for Russia. Artemi Panarin, Vladislav Namestnikov and Sergei Andronov each scored twice in that one, Tommaso Traversa got the Italian goal.

Luca’s father is Ivano Zanatta. He spent three seasons within SKA St. Petersburg, first as assistant coach on the KHL team, then as head coach of the juniors. Finally he had a spell behind the bench in the KHL in the 2010/11 campaign before parting company with the club. Since then, he worked with Lev Prague during its KHL career and returned to Russia for roles with HK Sochi and, most recently, VHL outfit Dynamo St. Petersburg. It’s an impressive CV, but Luca is looking to build the Italian team’s identity from within the camp as the promoted nation looks to bounce back from a rough start in Group B.

“We’re just trying to get over what’s happened, or to look at our mistakes and learn from our mistakes when we prepare for the next day,” he said. “I think we know our identity now and we can play to that. Against Russia, we’re up against one of the best teams in the world but we also know that our key games [in the relegation battle] are coming up after Russia so we gotta be ready for those.”

Life for both promoted teams at this year’s championship has been difficult. Between them, Italy and Great Britain have played six games, scoring one goal between them and allowing 40. Zanatta, 27, explained that the challenge lies in coping with the fast pace of the top-level game and dealing with nations that bring years of elite experience to the ice.

“Most of it is just the sheer speed of it,” he said. “It’s how much less time you have to make a play, make a decision, to act and react. Some of the players here, they play in some of the best leagues in the world.

“Other countries, like Latvia, they are well established at this level. I can’t remember a time when they were down in the B group. They are used to it; they can build something behind it. For countries like Italy, going up and down, to adapt right away is hard. But I think Italy – and I’m sure GB as well – know what the key games are. OK, we hoped we could get something against Latvia but it didn’t go for us. We can’t cry about it, we just gotta look forward. Both countries have some big games coming up in the next week and we’re looking forward to that.”

But is a game against a Russian team loaded with scoring stars from the NHL one of those key games for a blue liner who plays in Switzerland’s second tier with EHC Olten?

“Do you believe in miracles?” Zanatta smiled. “I could make you a list [of Russian players to watch out for]. They have so many top players, all of them really. They’ve been one of the best in the world since I wasn’t even born. They keep proving themselves at that world class level. I don’t have to tell you names like Ovechkin or Kovalchuk, Kucherov had a brilliant year in the NHL this year, Malkin, Kuznetsov, it’s just one after another.”

However, in a refrain common to both Italy and GB this season, Zanatta is not content to make up the numbers against the big boys.

“No matter who you’re facing, you play to win,” he said. “We know it’s Russia but that doesn’t make any difference. We can’t go out and just try not to look too bad. We have to do our best, no matter who we are playing against.”