Italy’s top teams play in Austrian-based cross-borders leagues. HC Bolzano in EBEL and eight more teams in the Alps Hockey League with Austria’s second-tier teams and clubs from Slovenia. The top four Italian teams of the Alps Hockey League determine the national champion in home-and-away semi-finals followed by a home-and-away final series.
The semi-finals started with a surprise as Asiago Hockey eliminated AHL leader HC Pustertal. After a 2-2 tie in the first game Asiago notched a 2-1 road win in the return game. Ritten played an all-South Tyrol clash against the Wipptal Broncos in the other semi-final series and won the games 4-3 and 2-1 to play for gold again.
Ritten had a dream start in Asiago with Alex Frei opening the scoring after 63 seconds. Asiago answered with two goals in the second period but Swedish import Henrik Eriksson and 44 seconds later Stefan Quinz regained the lead for Ritten. Asiago tied it up again but Ritten’s scoring leader Frei netted the puck for the game winner in the dying minutes of the game.
One day later Ritten welcomed Asiago for the deciding game and the fans in the sold-out arena saw another dramatic game. Asiago tied the series with a 6-2 win after 60 minutes including two goals from Anthony Bardaro to extend the series. It continued with a 4-on-4 overtime period that ended with the championship-clinching goal of former Latvian U20 national team player Olegs Sislannikovs at 17:06.
For small-town team Ritten, recently a regular IIHF Continental Cup participant as Italian champion, it’s the fifth Italian championship in history.