“I’m very happy about this success,” Asiago captain Marco Rosa told hockeytime.net. “Grit, heart and determination, that’s how Asiago claimed Game 3.”
During the past nine years the chase for the trophy has been between these two teams from the highlands of northeast Italy, Asiago from the Veneto region and Ritten from the more German-speaking South Tyrol area, and the 87th Italian championship wasn’t different as both teams reached the final.
While Ritten had won four consecutive championships between 2016 and 2019, this is now the second straight title for Asiago.
In Italy the best teams play in multinational leagues headquartered in Austria. HC Bolzano plays in the ICE Hockey League (until recently known as EBEL) while the other top Italian teams compete in the Alps Hockey League with the second-tier Austrian teams as well as the top Slovenian clubs.
In the 16-team AlpsHL that Asiago won as well in 2018 the team is currently ranked fifth while Ritten has a mediocre season in tenth place. While league play continues, the title for the Italian champion has again been determined in a separate competition for the seven AlpsHL teams from Italy. Since it happens before the end of the season, Italy was one of the only countries to have a national champion in 2020, which was Asiago as well, before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, and is now among the first to have one for 2021. The championship, also called IHL Serie A, also determines Italy’s entry for the IIHF Continental Cup.
Pustertal Bruneck, which has been the best Italian team of the regular season both in the AlpsHL and the Italian championship, surprisingly lost the South Tyrolean clash in the semi-finals against Ritten Sport 2-1 while Asiago won the other series against Cortina 2-0 to take the role of the favourite for the title.
Game 2 in Ritten was a different story. It was a tight affair for most of the games with the home team enjoying a first-period lead thanks to a shorthanded goal from Markus Spinell. It was him, who sealed the win with his second goal with 2:40 left in regulation time while Julian Kostner added another marker into the empty net for the 3-0 win.
For the all-deciding third game Asiago was eager to use home-ice advantage again, and it did. With 28 seconds left in the opening frame Enrico Miglioranzi gave Asiago the lead. Alex Frei and Steve McParland added two more early in the second period before a power-play goal from MacGregor Sharp brought Ritten back into the game. However, Ritten with a short roster due to injuries felt the fatigue while Davide Dal Sasso and Daniel Mantenuto added two more goals for Asiago in the last frame for the 5-1 win and the trophy.
For Dal Sasso the goal and trophy coincided with his 24th birthday. “I think I will remember this birthday for the rest of my life,” he told Giornale di Vicenza. “Incredible! We knew we had to play our best hockey, give 100 per cent intensity and we did it. Bellissimo!”
For the Italian club teams the season continues in their cross-border leagues before the national team will travel to Riga, Latvia for the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in May. The Azzurri managed to stay in the top division at the last worlds thanks to a 4-3 shootout win against neighbouring rival Austria in the last game.