We all know the powerhouses of international hockey: Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, and the United States. These nations have put together impressive squads with and without NHL players throughout their storied histories.
But imagine for a moment the teams that are not hockey powerhouses. The ones that play without the bright spotlight of the NHL or IIHF’s premiere tournaments and are labelled as belonging to a lesser tier of international hockey nations.
What if players were able to put on the uniform of their family’s cultural heritage, ethnicity, background, identity, group, or nationality? What would some of those teams look like? Well we at Brotherly Puck wanted an answer, so we decided to fill the void that is now with us thanks to the postponement of the NHL season to hopefully inform and entertain hockey fans of all backgrounds.
Italy has surprisingly participated in the IIHF World Hockey Championships 52 times over the years (not always in the championship pool) and the national team has amassed a 337–416–77 record in their history. Their best finish ever was a 4th place finish in 1953 in which they finished in 1st position in “Pool B”. Italy has also participated in the Winter Olympics for the sport of ice hockey a total of nine times. Their best finish ever at the Olympics was a 7th place finish in 1956, and their most recent participation came as hosts in 2006 where they finished in 11th place.
There have been many players of Italian descent that have played in the NHL over the years. So many in fact, that we can actually create a full roster of players that run the gamut of NHL Superstars to grinders in a checking role.
Lets take a look at what a starting lineup would look like for the Azzurri on ice.
Mike Modano – Center
Mike Modano was a model of consistency throughout his NHL career as he regularly reached 70-80 points a total of 12 times. After getting drafted by the Minnesota North Stars 1st overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, Modano began his career in the 89-90 season scoring 75 points (29 goals) in 80 games and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the NHL Rookie of the Year. Statistically, Modano’s best years in terms of points were in the North Stars final season in Minnesota in 92-93 (GP 82 G 33 A 60 PTS 93), and the inaugural Stars season in Dallas in 93-94 (GP 76 G 50 A 43 PTS 93). Modano won the only Stanley Cup of his career in 1999 with the Dallas Stars under head coach Ken Hitchcock. After retiring in 2010-2011 after a short stint with the Detroit Red Wings, Modano has widely been recognized as perhaps the greatest American player ever both on the ice (GP 1499 G 561 A 813 PTS 1374) as well as off and he is widely credited with establishing and growing the game in Texas and cementing the popularity of the Stars in Dallas. Modano’s amazing career culminated with an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.
Here is a video from the NHL with highlights from Modano’s career:
Dino Ciccarelli – Winger
A native of Sarnia Ontario, Dino Ciccerelli is a great example of how toughness and skill combined with a great work ethic can make for a good career. Unbelievably, Ciccarelli was passed over in his draft year (1979) going undrafted after an injury plagued season. This was despite coming off a 72 goal season with 142 points for the London Knights in 1977-1978. He returned to the Knights the following season after signing with the Minnesota North Stars and regained his form by scoring 50 goals and 103 points in 62 games. After getting called up in 1980-81 Ciccarelli scored 18 goals and 30 points in 32 regular season games during his rookie year, and followed it up with an impressive playoff run that saw him score 14 goals and 21 points in 19 games as the North Stars made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final only to lose to the New York Islanders. In his career, Ciccarelli broke the 100 point mark twice (he also had 97 and 89 point seasons), scored 50 goals twice, hit 40 goals four times, and scored at least 30 goals in 11 seasons with the North Stars, Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. Ciccarelli’s toughness and compact frame made him a fixture in front of opposing netminders and he feasted on rebounds and second chance opportunities to the tune of GP 1232 G 608 A 592 PTS 1425. Ciccarelli earned every bit of ice in his career and was rewarded with induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.
Here are some highlights from Ciccarelli’s career:
Here is some footage from DownGoesBrown showing a line brawl between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs in a playoff matchup with Ciccarelli in the middle of it:
Here is a clip of Ciccarelli taking exception to Scott Stevens hit from behind:
Phil Esposito – Winger
Without question, Phil Esposito was one of the greatest wingers to ever play the game. Beginning his NHL career in 1963-64 with the Chicago Blackhawks, Phil had three 20 goal seasons. When he was traded to the Boston Bruins in 1967, Esposito’s career exploded as the Bruins were a perennial Stanley Cup contender with multiple Hall of Famers on their roster. With Boston in 1968-69, Esposito became the first player in NHL history to register 100 points in a season (126) and would go on to hit that milestone in seven of the nine years he played with the Bruins (one season he had 99 points). In his time with the Bruins he hit at least 30 goals in 8 consecutive seasons, and topped out with an unreal 76 goals and 76 assists for 152 points in 78 games during the 1970-71 season. His streak of consecutive 30 goal seasons continued when he got traded to the New York Rangers in the middle of the 1975-76 season and totalled 13 until the streak was broken in his final season with the Rangers in 1980-81. While he never won the Stanley Cup in New York, Esposito was a key contributor in winning the Cup twice with the Bruins and was an important player in the 1972 Summit Series in which Canada played the Soviet Union. After retiring as a player (GP 1282 G 717 A 873 PTS 1590), Esposito was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984. His work in hockey continued as Esposito was a General Manager of the Rangers and was influential in convincing the NHL to expand to Tampa Bay and founding the Lightning franchise.
Here is a video made by the NHL commemorating the career of Phil Esposito:
Mark Giordano – Defence
Currently the captain of the Calgary Flames, Mark Giordano is a 16-year veteran who signed with the Flames as an undrafted free agent in 2004. After a 36 point season in 2006-07, Giordano left Calgary in the midst of a contract dispute with the club and played in Russia with Moscow Dynamo for a season. He ended up returning to the Flames in 2008-09 but a shoulder injury cut his return season short. Giordano played a full season in 2009-10 and scored 11 goals and 30 points. He followed up his solid year with an even better 43 points the following season, before injury shortened seasons and the lockout caused his point totals to drop. Since 2013-14, Giordano has never been below the 38 point mark (until the current season was postponed with Giordano at 31 points) and he has been a massively influential presence on the team’s top pairing. Giordano’s best year came at age 35 in the 2018-19 season when he scored 17 goals and 57 assists for 74 points in 78 games and was awarded the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s Top Defenseman. He won the award in a landslide over Brent Burns (SJ) and Victor Hedman (TB) with 165 first place votes out a possible 171. Giordano’s skill and obvious leadership capabilities make him a lock for the top pairing, as does his international experience in winning the Spengler Cup in 2007.
Here is a montage of all 17 of Giordano’s goals from his Norris Trophy season in 2018-19:
Alex Pietrangelo – Defence
Alex Pietrangelo is currently serving as the captain of the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. His high level of play started well before he even got into the OHL, as he was a teammate of Michael Del Zotto and John Tavares in the GTHL (Greater Toronto Hockey League). Pietrangelo was selected 4th overall by the Blues in the 2008 NHL Draft, playing in his first full season in the NHL in 2010-11 with 11 goals and 32 assists for 43 points in 79 games. He followed up that season with a 51 point campaign before getting only 24 points in 47 games due to injury in 2012-13. Since then, Pietrangelo has been remarkably consistent by having 6 of his 7 seasons with at least 40 points. With the postponement of the NHL season due to COVID-19, Pietrangelo had a career high 16 goals in 69 games (52 points) on a very good Blues squad that had been missing top scorer Vladimir Tarasenko for the bulk of the season. In the last year of a 7 year/$45 million dollar deal, Pietrangelo would have been one of the marquis free agents that would have garnered quite a bit of interest had he hit the open market on July 1st as a free agent. After all, how many defenceman can claim a Stanley Cup winning goal in a Game 7? Beyond that, Pietrangelo is the clear number one defenseman who plays a tremendous amount of minutes and can play in all situations as needed by his team. While he doesn’t receive the accolades of some other defensemen in the NHL, he is as calm and steady an option as could be had and would be a substantial upgrade for any team that he would be a part of.
Here are all of Pietrangelo’s goals from St.Louis’ Stanley Cup season in 2018-19:
Tony Esposito – Goaltender
The younger brother of fellow NHLer Phil, Tony Esposito plied his trade in the NHL as a goaltender. Tony began his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens in 1968-69 playing in 13 games and registering 2 shutouts. He mainly saw action due to injuries to both Gump Worsley and Rogie Vachon. He ended up winning the Stanley Cup in that season and sported a 4-4 record in 8 playoff games with a .907 save percentage and a 3.39 GAA. As he was third on the Canadiens depth chart, Esposito was eligible to be claimed by another team in the offseason and he ended up joining the Chicago Blackhawks. Esposito joined the Blackhawks in 1969-70 and ended up staying with the club for 15 seasons until he retired in 1983-84. His first season with the Blackhawks may have been the best statistical season for a goaltender ever. Esposito ended up winning the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year along with the Vezina Trophy for Goaltender of the Year with a record of 38-17-8 with a .932 save percentage and a 2.17 GAA in 63 games played. Most impressive of all was the fact that Esposito had 15 shutouts that season, leading many teammates and reporters to give him the nickname “Tony O” for his ability to stonewall opposition shooters. He would win his second Vezina in the 1971-72 season with another 9 shutouts to go along with a sparkling 1.77 GAA and .934 save percentage and a 31-10-6 record in 48 games. His performance led him to be selected for the ’72 Summit Series to represent Canada and play with his brother Phil against the Soviet Union. Although Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden got the bulk of the starts in that epic series, Tony Esposito backstopped Canada to their first victory in Game 2. Back in the NHL, Esposito would win his third and final Vezina Trophy in 1973-74 hitting the double-digit mark for shutouts in a season with 10, a 2.04 GAA, a .928 save percentage and a 34-14-21 record. Starting with the 1980-81 season, Esposito began to experience a decline in his numbers with his save percentage falling below .900 and his GAA regularly climbing above 3.75. Upon retiring in 1984, Tony Esposito was recognized an all-time great goaltender in the NHL and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.
Here is a video from the NHL chronicling Tony Esposito’s vast achievements in hockey:
Team Italy – Final Roster
Phil Esposito – Mike Modano – Dino Ciccarelli
Alex Delvecchio – Jason Spezza – Mark Recchi
Tony Amonte – Ray Ferraro – Rick Tocchet
Tony Granato/John Tonelli – Mike Ricci – Todd Bertuzzi/Brian Gionta
Mark Giordano – Alex Pietrangelo
Al Iafrate – Michael Del Zotto
Dan Girardi – Tom Poti
Head Coach: John Tortorella General Manager: Lou Lamoriello
Other notable players include: Nick Bonino, Mike Cammalleri, Gino Cavallini, Paul Cavallini, Carlo Colaiacovo, Mike Foligno, Nick Foligno, Sergio Momesso, Rob Scuderi, and Marty Turco.
Did I leave anyone out that you feel should be included? Any tinkering with the lineup that I selected? Feel free to leave a comment or leave a response via twitter.
Until next time from Preaching to the Flyer on BrotherlyPuck.com,
photo credit: montrealgazette.com