“In my third Paralympics, I’m finally going to step into the veteran role to help my younger teammates adjust and give them advice. I’m now starting to do that, as I’ve grown up myself now and am trying to help the young guys grow up, too.”
Italian defenceman Gianluigi Rosa has been competing in international Para ice hockey tournaments for exactly 10 years now, but he has always shied away from calling himself a veteran in the sport.
However, following Italy’s welcome ceremony at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Village on Thursday (8 March), a different, self-confident Rosa surfaced.
“We have a lot of new players – young players who started three or four years ago and have progressed really well,” Rosa said of Team Italy. “In my third Paralympics, I’m finally going to step into the veteran role to help my younger teammates adjust and give them advice. I’m now starting to do that, as I’ve grown up myself now and am trying to help the young guys grow up, too.”
Rosa, who had his right leg amputated after a motorcycle accident at age 17, first took up Para ice hockey in 2006, and two years later cracked the national team. He had his major breakthrough at the 2013 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey Qualification Tournament, where he was tabbed Best Defender after leading Italy to a second-place spot to qualify for the Sochi 2014 Games. Following a sixth-place finish in Sochi, he then anchored Italy to a silver medal two years later at the European Championships.
Rosa already had the chance to play a tournament on the Paralympic ice, helping Italy to a fifth-place finish at the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships, which also served as the PyeongChang 2018 Test Event. The highlight for Rosa at that event was scoring the winning goal to stun host nation South Korea, 3-2, in a thrilling penalty shootout. It was the closest Italy ever got to the podium at a World Championships.
In the midst of all that, the 30-year-old has stepped up as the captain of his club team, G.S. Disabili Alto Adige, taking on the responsibility of attracting new athletes to the sport in Italy and building the country’s next generation of Para ice hockey stars. With former long-time captain Andrea Chiarotti retiring and becoming the team’s general manager after suffering from a serious illness, Rosa, the tallest and most vocal member of the team, has now transferred his skills with the club team to the national team to fill that leadership void.
Italy will begin its Paralympic campaign on Saturday (10 March) with a much-anticipated preliminary round matchup against Norway, the most decorated Para ice hockey team in the history of the Winter Paralympics. The Italians will be relying heavily on Rosa’s quick speed and playmaking abilities to keep the puck away from their net, hoping he can stay out of the penalty box in the process.
“Our first game against Norway is probably the most important of the tournament,” Rosa said, implying that the winner of that matchup is very likely to advance to the semifinal round later in the competition. “We have been preparing for this match specifically for one year now.”
The Italian squad, enthusiastic as always sang their national anthem at the top of their lungs during their Paralympic Village welcome ceremony. Rosa noted that even though the competition has not started yet, the PyeongChang experience is already more exciting than in Sochi four years ago for him, as this time around all the athletes are accommodated in one village rather than split between the mountain and coastal clusters.
So once the competition begins, what would make it even sweeter for Rosa?
Bettering the team’s best-ever sixth place finish at a Paralympics from four years ago.
“A fifth-place finish for us at the Paralympic Games would be great and possibly realistic,” Rosa said. “A fourth-place finish or even a medal? Well, that would be a dream.”
Every competition as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies can be watched live right here on the International Paralympic Committee’s website. Highlights of each day’s action will also be made available.