Coming to a flyer and never looking back, Italy only needed four matches to secure the top spot at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A in Brasov, Romania.
To secure the promotion in emphatic fashion, Italy collected the most points from their first four matches to open an irreplaceable advantage over the rest of the chasing group ahead of Sunday’s final match against Great Britain.
Italy’s gold-medal victory was confirmed while lounging in the stands of the Brasov Olympic Ice Hall. They were seen as their only remaining contender for the top spot, Great Britain, suffered a meltdown in the second round as Romania scored four unanswered goals to score an unforgettable 4-3 victory.
Italy, competing in the IIHF U-20 World Ice Hockey Championships 2023, Division I, Group B, will be able to call 10 players from their roster of gold medalists from Brasov to skate at the top level next year.
Thomas Galimberti led in scoring for the Italians who accumulated 4 + 2 points in four matches. He was closely followed by 17-year-old Tommy Berdler of Red Bull Hockey Academy from Austria, who scored two goals and three assists. But Italy’s recipe for success was not due to individual efforts, but rather to a team full of attacking options. Coach Giorgio De Petain witnessed the scoring of 12 different players who scored 19 goals for Italy on their way to winning promotion.
While the Italians had a knack for moving forward, they were rock-solid at the opposite end. 71:07 minutes of play were required before they conceded the first goal in Brasov. Carlo Moraro and Damien Clara shared goalkeeping duties with almost identical proportions. With Italy conceding only four goals in as many matches, both goalkeepers have two wins and a close each with a GAA of 0.50. 16-year-old Clara had a potential shutdown on his U20 Worlds debut for Italy and still has three more years to shine at that level. Clara made history earlier this year by being named to the first national team world championship roster at a young age.
As Italy celebrates the gold medal, the surprise package for the tournament was undoubtedly newly-promoted Korea. They showed few signs of any travel lag after beating Romania 4-1 in their opening match. Wujae Kim’s team followed up with a 2-1 victory over Spain in extra time, before recovering from a two-goal deficit to defeat Great Britain 5-4 after penalty kicks. In the end, it wasn’t enough to deny Italy, though, when the two teams clashed in a key match between the only two unbeaten teams on Friday night.
A penalty kick tackle against Johannes Gschnitzer gave Korea their first strong game in the game, which they took full advantage of when Heegon Jang converted it at 11:24. But with 20 seconds left of the first frame, Italy were on a level. Leonard Ludwig Hassler and Bordeler combined with Jacob Prast to tie the match by one.
16 of the 22 Italian players on their roster ski in their home country. One of those, Hasler, currently on loan to Sterzing-Vipiteno at the AlpsHL, enjoyed a particularly great afternoon against Korea. He provided his second assist in the match as Enrico Larcher put Italy ahead in the 8:40 minute from the middle. With Korea’s Minjae Park still short, Hasler himself turned in Powerplay at 13:35 to take the lead to 3-1.
Italy was played in the third frame. At 2:28, Hasler scored his fourth point when he provided a pass to Marco Zanetti to net the net 4-1. With the Koreans chasing a goal and losing power, Galimberti, who plays hockey for the Pelicans Lahti under-20 team in Finland, finished off the scoring for Italy in Powerplay with 1:27 left to score a stunning 5-1 win.
The event was held at the Olympic Ice Skating Rink in Brasov, a venue named at a time when the Transylvanian city hosted the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) in 2013. Future NHL stars such as Finland’s Sebastian Aho and Switzerland’s Kevin Fiala then skated in Brasov. in the EYOF hockey tournament. Perhaps a new generation of future Italian superstars is now seeing the light at the same venue that is hosting the U20 Division IIA Championship almost nine years later.
Earlier in the tournament, Italy mercilessly beat Lithuania and Romania 7-0 and 5-0 respectively in their first two matches. The Azzurri then came back from behind to defeat Spain 2-1 during the third match, as Italy’s top scorer Galimberti scored the winning goal in the middle of the match.
The competition ends on Sunday, and there is still plenty to play for during the final round of matches. Korea and Great Britain, equal in points, are vying for the silver or bronze medal. At the bottom of the table, Romania, Lithuania and Spain will fight to avoid relegation to Class IIB.