From 27 February – 4 March, four Para ice hockey teams will square off at the sixth edition of the International Para Ice Hockey Tournament, organised by Sportdipiu in Torino, Italy.
Paralympic silver medallists Canada, European silver medallists Italy, European bronze medallists Norway and the next Paralympic host nation South Korea will all hit the ice at the Palatazzoli arena.
Here are five things to know about the tournament, which takes place less than two months prior to the World Para Ice Hockey Championships A-Pool.
1.The Italian public will have the opportunity to follow their team closely. Entrance to the stadium is free and hundreds of local school children from Torino will be attending the host nation’s games.
2.Canada will enter the tournament as the favourites and will be looking to defend its title from December 2015, when it beat Italy in the final. But despite still having key veterans such as Brad Bowden and Greg Westlake, the Canadian squad looks vastly different from then. This year’s national team includes four new youngsters who head coach Ken Babey consciously recruited to make the team faster – James Dunn (16), Zach Savage (16), Liam Hickey (18) and Corbyn Smith (18).
3.Norway is the only other team in the tournament to have taken the event title before, winning in the first-ever edition in 2011. But over the last two Paralympic cycles, Norway’s path has not been as smooth as in previous years. From 1994 to 2010, Norway had made every Paralympic and World Championship podium in Para ice hockey. But the country has not seen an international podium since. It will be using this tournament as a way to prepare itself for the upcoming World Championships in South Korea, where it hopes to reverse that recent trend.
4.Stephen Kafmann and Eusebiu Antochi will be making their international debuts with the Italian team.
Kafmann, a forward and right-leg amputee, will be playing in place of Werner Winkler. Meanwhile, 26-year-old Antochi, who has already been playing for the Sportdipiu Sitting Bulls club team, is from Romania but recently received his Italian passport and will be a nice addition to the Italian squad with a lot of potential.
5.If you are following the tournament, you will most likely spot PyeongChang 2018 ambassador Seung-Hwan Jung.
He’s starred in videos and promotions for both the Korean Paralympic Committee and PyeongChang 2018 Committee leading up to the next Paralympic Winter Games, and he has been playing on South Korea’s Para ice hockey team for 13 years. Expect him to be the one to try to shoulder his team to victory in Torino.
The Torino international will also help the teams prepare for the upcoming Gangneung 2017 World Championships A-Pool, which will also act as the Test Event for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games between 11-20 April.
The competition will see the top five teams qualify for PyeongChang 2018, with the rest going on to the Qualification Tournament later in 2017.
World and Paralympic champions the USA, Worlds silver medallists Canada, Norway, Italy, Germany, South Korea and Sweden are expected to compete.