Last Wednesday night for dinner, I ate chicken and pasta. For lunch on Thursday, I had planned-leftover chicken and pasta. When I got dressed that evening I had to plan my outfit strategically. Which fabric would be the most resistant to excessive underarm perspiration? I settled on a loose fitting light grey sweater. The color is not ideal for avoiding pit stains, but I hoped the looseness would compensate for this shortcoming. This routine and the nerves that channeled through my veins all day are instant giveaways that hockey season has begun. You would think that after 6 years, I would be immune to standard game-day excitement. But, no. Not at UNH, not in Providence, and as I learned on opening day last week, not in Italy. The problem is that I really want Kevin to play well, but I have absolutely no control in the matter. As a result, I bubble over with anticipation. You would think that I was the one that has to stand in net in front of a huge audience for 60 minutes. Yet, all I have to do is sit back, drink a glass of wine or three, and watch the periods go by.
And so I begin with my long overdue post about hockey. I’m sure you knew it was coming seeing as hockey is the reason we are here in the first place…
It was just over three months ago that our move to Italy became a possibility. My Bionic fiancé was recovering from his second arthroscopic hip surgery from two consecutive Aprils, and was excited to start playing with his completed pair of new hips. His second contract with the Providence Bruins had just expired and I was about to administer final exams to my third year’s worth of students. The one-month countdown to our wedding day was about to commence and we were anxiously awaiting news of where we would be spending our first year of marriage.
The notion of playing in Italy materialized when Kevin’s agent found a shortened demand for goaltenders in the AHL. When Kevin was first informed of this option, he was hesitant in relaying the news to me. We had always discussed the possibility of his playing in Europe eventually, agreeing that it would be a great opportunity to travel. But we had not anticipated that eventually would come so soon. I had just walked into the apartment after a day at work when Kevin told me the news. More overwhelming to me than the information itself was the reality that this would be the first joint decision we would make of this magnitude. I thought it was adorable how strongly Kevin valued my opinion on the matter, but did he honestly expect I would say, “Absolutely not! Living in Italy for eight months sounds like an awful idea!”? Yes, it was happening sooner than we’d expected, but it was exciting nevertheless. Two weeks before our wedding day, we moved out of our apartment, and Kevin signed a contract to play for Hockey Club Valpellice for the 2010-2011 Season.
Now, here’s a quick geography lesson for you. You will be quizzed on it later. Torre Pellice (where Kevin plays), Luserna (where we live), and four neighboring villages including Bobbio Pellice, Androgna, Rora and Bricherasio collectively make up an area called Val Pellice. France lies less than two hours to the West of this collection of villages, and Switzerland is three hours north on the other side of the Valle D’Aosto mountains. Italy is divided into regions. Valpe, or so the area is affectionately called by the hockey fans, is a part of the Piemont region of Italy. Torre, Luserna, and the rest of the Valpe bunch are an hour south of Torino, this region’s capitol. So, in mathematical terms: Torre Pellice is a subset of Val Pellice which is a subset of the Piemont Region of Italy. Phew, that was tough…
In addition to Valpellice, the Italian A league consists of 8 other teams: Cortina, Brunico, Fassa, Renon, Bolzano, Pontaiba, Asiago, and Alleghe. Unlike Valpe, which is situated in the Northwest portion of the country, these teams are clustered in the Northeast, closer neighbors to Austria and Germany than to France and Switzerland. Suppose you constructed a scatterplot of longitude vs. latitude, with each point representing the location of a team’s home ice. You would see 8 points clustered together on the right of the chart and one point standing alone on the left, an obvious outlier. That point would be the Valpe Bulldog’s rink in Torre Pellice.
This mathematical analogy brings to light a seemingly inconvenient reality for Kevin and his teammates… lots of travel. They will be roadtripping 6-10 hours both ways for each of the 20 away games in their schedule. The other teams will only have to travel that far when they play away against Valpellice. That amounts to only 2-3 long trips over course of their regular seasons.
But, as there usually is if you look hard enough, there is a bright side to every circumstance. In this case, being far away from the rest of the teams in the league puts us closer to more of what Italy has to offer. Within a two hour radius we have Aosta, Milan, Genoa, and Sestriere. A little farther and we’re in Florence, Venice, or Le Cinque Terre. And let’s not forget that a train from Torino can bring us to Rome or Paris in about 6 hours. The other teams are slightly closer to Venice, but we are closer to just about everything else.
So, how did an Irish American hockey player from South Boston end up in Italy? Well, as with all European leagues, every team is allowed a certain number of imports on their roster. In Italy, this number is 6. Americans or Canadians with Italian citizenship count as half an import. So, in total, 9 players on the Valpe team make up the allotted 6 imports. The rest of the roster is composed of Italian players that live in the surrounding area. These players are between the ages of 17 and 30, and for most of them, hockey is something they do on the side of finishing up high school, college, or working another full time job.
For each import, the team provides an apartment, car, and utilities. They are primarily able to do this through sponsorships. Val Pellice has many sponsors for which Kevin and his teammates are walking advertisements, literally. For example, since they are sponsored by a local clothing company, they participated in a fashion show during “Valpe Day”, a dinner celebration of the hockey programs in the area. There, they strutted down a large runway in different outfits provided by the company and paused and pivoted at the end of the T-Shaped stage like professional models. They also have specific outfits contributed by this company that they are required to wear to every game.
Another one of the team’s many sponsors is Ford, which is why, as you can guess, we all drive Fords. Here is a picture of our car…
Just kidding! Our car doesn’t stand out THAT much. It actually stands out more!
I’m still getting used to being stared at while I’m driving. Needless to say, gone are the days where I am in a parking lot and can’t find my car, or I try accidentally and unsuccessfully to get into a car that looks identical to mine.
Having discussed the logistics of the hockey in Italy, it’s time to describe the fan base of the Valpe bulldogs. In two words, it’s large and enthusiastic. The residents of the Val Pellice villages LOVE hockey! As I’ve said before, I talk to pretty much everyone that will listen to me while I butcher their language. In most of these conversations, the said listener deduces that I am here with a hockey player because they either see my car or they figure that this is the only explanation for an American plopping herself in the middle of nowhere Italy for eight months. Whenever I confirm their suspicions, they throw their arms up in delight and rave about the importance of hockey in the town. It has been a part of the culture for a long time, and the fans are very proud of the team. Having such a dedicated group of fans makes the games a lot of fun for the players. They want to win for the people in the stands as much as they want to win for themselves. I can only hope that their enthusiasm is unfaltering in winning streaks and losing streaks alike. As I tell Kevin jokingly, “No pressure, but my reputation in this town rides upon your playing well". Afterall, I don’t want to be stuck driving around a Valpe car if the fans are particularly displeased with the team’s performance.
With only one game down, it’s tough to predict how the Valpellice team will do this season. One thing I do know is that the team is made up of a really good group of guys, and I have no doubt that they will battle every night for the win. Also, the team’s board members are a generous collection of men who, with their families, seem to thoroughly enjoy being a part of the hockey club. And, much to my liking, the wives and girlfriends that are accompanying Kevin’s teammates have proven to be a fun and friendly crew. I’ve already established in previous posts that simply living in Italy will make for an enjoyable eight months. But, it is nice to know that, considering these assets, it should be a lot of fun from the hockey perspective as well.
|Kevin in net in a pre-season match-up!|