"It's huge for us and our confidence in the team," said Noebels. "Tomorrow, we've got to play even better to win against Norway."
Nine goals is the most ever scored by Germany on Italy at either the Worlds (dating back to 1934) or the Olympics (dating back to 1936).
"What I liked was that a lot of players got touches on the puck," said German head coach Toni Soderholm. "We made some small changes for the second period. We wanted to put them under more pressure and not let them change. In the second period, we got some longer shifts in the offensive zone, scored a couple of goals off of that. I felt like everybody was a part of what was happening on the ice. Altogether, I'm fairly pleased with what we did tonight."
In Riga, the Germans, who shocked the world with their Olympic silver medal in 2018, are aiming to improve on 2019’s sixth-place finish under Soderholm. Italy barely stayed in the top division in 2019, thanks to a 4-3 shootout win over Austria.
Top to bottom, Italy’s roster, decimated by COVID-19 and injuries, is nothing if not varied. For instance, third goalie Damian Clara, a product of Austria’s Red Bull Academy, is only 16 years old, despite standing 195 cm.
Italian head coach Greg Ireland, currently unavailable due to COVID-19, was replaced Friday by assistant coach Giorgio de Bettin. The Italians, who still have four open roster spots, will require a full team effort to secure points in a tough Group B. Their next game is against Norway on Sunday.
"It’s been difficult for us since day one because we’ve had problems with Covid the last few weeks," said Italy's Luca Frigo. "We’ve missed some guys, but we came here a few days early and tried to get in shape. I think we did a pretty good job today for what we had time to do."
Shots on goal favoured Germany 52-14, including a whopping 19-2 margin in the second period.
Alex Petan, the Canadian-born brother of Nic Petan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, made his IIHF debut as an alternate captain, and the 29-year-old made his mark on the scoreboard at 17:42. Capitalizing on a Lukas Reichel turnover in the neutral zone, Petan converted Angelo Maceli’s saucer pass to beat German starter Felix Bruckmann on a 2-on-1. It was a nice moment for the underdogs.
"We talked with the coaches back home and said we wanted to come here and show that we can play and we belong," said Italy's Peter Spornberger. "We have nothing to lose. We just want to show everyone we deserve to be here."
Just 25 seconds later, Luca Frigo put Italy up 2-1, whacking the rebound from Marco Magnabosco’s shot past Bruckmann. But Italy’s ecstasy was short-lived.
At 18:44, Markus Eisenschmid, an Adler Mannheim forward who is the brother of 2014 Olympian and four-time Women’s Worlds participant Tanja Eisenschmid, circled Fazio’s net and centered the puck to captain Moritz Muller, who scored high to the glove side. It was the veteran Muller's first Worlds goal since 2009.
In the second period, Germany’s NHL experience paid off again with a 3-2 lead at 4:23. In the offensive zone, Kuhnhackl fought off two Italian defenders and sent the puck down to Tobias Rieder of the Buffalo Sabres, who put a nifty backhander high past Fazio.
"In the second, we had a lot of O-zone time, a lot of grinding and puck possession, and then pucks found their way into the net more for us," Kuhnhackl said.
At 7:47, Frederik Tiffels made it 4-2 on the power play. Fazio stopped his initial attempt to tip in Eisenschmid’s shot, but Tiffels backhanded the loose puck over the Italian goalie’s outstretched left pad.
Marcel Noebels put the game out of reach at 15:13, whacking the puck in out of the air to climax a messy German rush. With Eisbaren Berlin this season, Noebels had six goals and 36 assists and captured the 2021 DEL championship.
It was 6-2 Germany after Reichel capitalized on backchecking Italian forward Peter Hochkofler's misfortune. On the rush, Moritz Seider's attempted pass went off Hochkofler's stick and Reichel put the puck into a half-open net. And at 18:35, Noebels blew a one-timer from the right faceoff circle past Fazio for a 7-2 gap.
With 41 seconds remaining in the middle frame, Germany's Jonas Muller was kicked out of the game for a dangerous defensive-zone hit from behind on 39-year-old Italian veteran Marco Rosa. The ensuing Italian five-minute man advantage became a 5-on-3 early in the third period, with Marcel Brandt off for holding.
Nonetheless, Germany made it 8-2 at 2:52. Forward Matthias Plachta narrowly avoided putting the puck in his own net when Bruckmann came out for an extra attacker on a delayed Italian penalty. However, Plachta, a 2018 Olympic silver medallist and six-time World Championship participant, atoned for his near-gaffe with a nice shorthanded tally.
Italy struck back mere moments later with power-play goals just 44 seconds apart from Anthony Bardaro and captain Daniel Frank. But an 8-4 deficit isn't easy to overcome, not even if you're the 1985 Edmonton Oilers.
Shortly afterwards, Germany's Noebels drove down right wing and sent a great backhand feed to Leonard Pfoederl, who stretched the lead to 9-4 at 8:41.
Asked about Germany's overall mindset, Soderholm said: "Nobody wants to take steps backwards. There's a certain amount of assertiveness and a will and desire to be a top nation. So everybody's striving for that."
The game was played with no attendance at Arena Riga due to current pandemic restrictions, although cardboard cut-outs of fans dotted the stands.