Italy celebrates 100 years of IIHF membership
by Andrew PODNIEKS|24 JAN 2024
Team Italy look on prior to warm ups during preliminary Round Group A action against Canada at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship at Helsinki Ice Hall on May 15, 2022 in Helsinki, Finland.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
It was at the 11th annual Congress in Chamonix, France, on 24 January 1924 that the IIHF admitted two new members—Italy and Romania. They became the 13th and 14th nations to join the burgeoning organization whose goal was to unify and codify the game across Europe, and to bring countries from around the world under one competitive umbrella.


Italy is one of the top hockey countries in Europe both for domestic and international competition. Just two months after joining the IIHF they hosted the 1924 European Championship in Milan. They started IIHF participation in 1930, at the first World Championship, and have played at the WM virtually every year since. At both the World Juniors and World U18 World Championship they have also been faithful entrants year after year, and the same can be said for the women’s teams.
Italy has hosted the Olympic Winter Games on two occasions—1956 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, and 2006 in Turin. They will add a third chapter to their Olympic history in two years’ time when the world comes to Milan for the 2026 Olympics. At the World Championships, they first hosted in 1934 in Milan, and again 60 years later when the tournament was spread over three cities—Milan, Bolzano, and Canazei.
In the 1930s the Men’s World Championship was organized by invitation, so any team that wanted to participate was more than welcome. Italy played in 1930 and again in 1933, ‘34, ‘35, and ‘39, as well as the 1936 Olympics, their first Games. After the war, the IIHF expanded to include not only an A Pool but soon a B, C, and D Pool, where promotion and relegation kept a more or less even number of teams in the top level.
Italy played consistently in the B and C Pools starting in the 1950s and continuing into the early 1990s. There were some notable exceptions, though. In 1959, they played in the top pool and were coached by Bill Cupolo, a Canadian NHLer who moved to Milan to play and coach after his pro career was over. In the early 1980s, the team had even greater success under another Canadian coach, Dave Chambers. In 1981, he took the team to first place in B Pool, earning them promotion to A Pool the following year. They finished a respectable 7th and played again in the top group in 1982, after which they were demoted.
But since 1992, the Italians have developed a more successful program, first under a series of Canadian coaches and many Canadian players, but more recently thanks to homegrown talent. They have played in the top pool 21 times since ’92, their greatest success coming in 1994 when they finished 6th at the WM.
At the U20 and U18 level, the program has never yet made it the top pool, and the same can be said for the women’s side. The one notable exception was 2006 when they qualified for the Olympics as hosts, but the women were outclassed and lost all five games by a cumulative margin of 48-3.

Top Stars

Of course, you don’t play hockey for a century without having some stars on the ice and behind the bench, and Italy can certainly boast a number of alumni to be proud of. In the 1930s, their biggest stars included Decio Trovati, Franco Roncarelli, Ignacio Dionisi, and goaltender Augusto Gerosa, all of whom played at the inaugural World Championship in 1930.
Aldo Federici was probably the biggest name of the 1950s, and in the next wave of talent it was the Da Rin brothers, Gianfranco and Alberto. Roberto Oberrauch captained the team six times in the 1990s, while Gates Orlando, Lucio Topatigh, and Toni Circelli were household names. The early 2000s saw a new core emerge led by Giuseppe Busillo, Mario Chittaroni, and Roland Ramoser.
On the women’s side, perhaps the two most notable personalities have been coaches. Marco Liberatore guided the senior team for eleven seasons, while the U18 team has been coached since 2016 by Massimo Fedrizzi, who also took over the senior duties from Liberatore in 2022.
Team Italy assistant coach Marco Liberatore 2010 IIHF World Championship.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matthew Manor

Biggest Games

Giovanni Baroni can lay claim to scoring Italy’s first goal in World Championship play, and it was a game winner, no less! Italy played only one game in 1930, and lost 2-0 to Hungary. Their first game in 1933 was also a shutout loss, 3-0 to Austria, but in the next day Baroni scored late in the first period as Italy beat Romania, 2-0.
In the early days, surely Italy’s biggest win came at the 1936 Olympics, when a Gianni Scotti goal in overtime gave the team a 2-1 win over the United States in group play. The Americans won bronze while Italy finished tied for 7th.
Going undefeated at the 1981 WM B Pool on home ice in Urtijei, Italy, the hosts earned promotion to A Pool for the first time since 1959. Key to the group win was a 4-1 win over Poland, which finished second.
One of the most famous games Italy played wasn’t even a win—it was a 3-3 tie with Canada on April 21, 1982, at the World Championships in Tampere, Finland. What made it famous? Well, for starters, Canada’s lineup included Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Bob Gainey, Bobby Clarke, Kevin Lowe, and many other superstars from the NHL. The Italians were led by Canadian-born goalie Jim Corsi, who was the best player on the ice, stopping 50 of 53 shots. Canada led 1-0, but Italy tied. Canada led 2-1, but Italy tied again. In the third, Italy pulled ahead and Canada had to rally just for the tie. Up front, captain Rick Bragnalo was equal to Corsi. He scored the 2-2 goal with one second left in the second period—short-handed, no less—and assisted on the other two Italy goals. Gretzky, who led the tournament in scoring, was held pointless in the game. It was a most improbable result.
Another game of significance came on 7 April 1991, when Italy beat Norway, 4-3, to clinch top spot in B Pool of the Men’s Worlds, thus earning promotion for 1992. This was the start of the team’s greatest successes. They stayed in the top pool for eleven straight seasons and also played at the 1994 Olympics. Many of these teams were coached by Bryan Lefley, and their longtime captain was Robert Oberrauch.
Although it was a loss, the team’s latest game in a tournament came at the 1994 World Championship on home ice. The team won three of five games during the preliminary round in Bolzano and finished third in the group behind Canada and Russia, earning a place in the quarter-finals for the first, and still only, time. They lost that game to Sweden, 7-2, in Milan, but their 6th-place finish was an all-time high.
On February 14, 2006, Sabina Florian made women’s history for Italy, scoring the team’s first ever goal at the Olympics, on home ice, no less, in Turin. After being shut out in their first two games, Florian scored against Russia in a 5-1 loss.

Hall of Famers

Although many a star has represented Italia in IIHF competition, one name off ice looms larger than all others—Enrico Calcaterra. Although he played for his country in the 1930s, it was his accomplishments after his playing career that made him the first and only inductee into the IIHF Hall of Fame, as a Builder, in 1998. He served on the Italian Olympic Committee and represented Italy at many IIHF Congresses, and he was also president of the Italian Ice Sport Federation and later the FISG (Federazione Italiana Sport del Ghiaccio).
Lucio Topatigh was the inaugural recipient of the Richard “Bibi” Torriani Award in 2015, in recognition of his participation in ten top level World Championships and four Olympics.
Lucio Topatigh received the inaugural Richard “Bibi” Torriani Award in 2015, during the 2015 IIHF Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andre Ringuette

2023-24 Season

The Italians will host the Men’s World Championship, Division I-A, this coming April, hoping to finish in first place and earn a promotion to the top pool for 2025. The U20 team, meanwhile, finished in third place of I-B last month, and the U18 team will also play in I-B, in Tallinn, Estonia, in April. The senior women will play in I-B in Riga, Latvia, at the end of March, and the U18 women’s team finished second behind Japan just a couple of weeks ago.

By the Numbers

Biggest win—10-2 vs. Great Britain, April 29, 1994, Men’s Worlds
Biggest loss—31-1 vs. United States, February 1, 1948, Olympics
World Ranking, Men—high 13 (2007), low 19 (three times)
World Ranking, Women—high 11 (2006), low 20 (three times)