PyeongChang 2018: Less pressure, more focus for Italy

Thanks to a top-five finish from the 2017 Worlds, team Italy are full-speed ahead to PyeongChang 2018. 21 Aug 2017
Sandro Kalegaris - Italy - Para ice hockey

Sandro Kalegaris scored first goal of Para Ice Hockey Worlds to give Italy opening win over Sweden.

ⒸIvo Gonzalez | For the IPC

“If we play our game and if we fight together, I think we could make something big happen"

The Italian Para ice hockey team are entering the 2017-18 season with a load off their sledges thanks to securing a qualification slot from their 2017 World Championships performance in April.

Now, they are on full-speed ahead to PyeongChang 2018, which comes in 200 days’ time.

“That was the first goal for us, to reach [PyeongChang 2018] and we did it,” Italian forward Sandro Kalegaris said. “So we can train now with much less pressure and can concentrate much more on the Paralympics.”

Italy missed out on a shot in the bronze medal match in Gangneung, South Korea, which would have marked their best ever finish at a World Championships. But they discovered the offensive weapon they have in Kalegaris, who led his team in scoring with seven goals.

The 27-year-old especially came through in a thrilling penalty shoot-out with host South Korea, in which he knocked in the game-winner to keep Italy in the top five and eventual qualification to PyeongChang 2018. It also saved the team a trip to Ostersund, Sweden, in October, where a Qualification Tournament will be held to decide the final three teams heading to next year’s Games.

Although Italy repeated their result from the 2015 Worlds, Kalegaris believes their 2017 performance showed that the Italians are not to be underestimated.

“I saw that we are one of the most physical teams and that gives us big respect from the other teams,” he said. “So we must work on our team play, passing and tactics.”

Reigning world champion Canada and the USA have been unshakeable at the top. It will be tough to contend with the sport’s two powerhouses.

Kalegaris did not peg the team’s expectations though at PyeongChang to a medal.

“If we play our game and if we fight together, I think we could make something big happen,” he said.

Kalegaris had his left leg amputated above the knee after a motorcycle accident in 2004 and will make his Paralympic debut next March. Prior to that are friendly matches on the radar.

First up is from 24-26 August, when Italy will host Japan in Aosta. It will be a good measuring stick to see where the team is after Gangneung.

“We play [this] week with our youngest players and players that plays for not so a long time, so they can have experience on a mid-level and take a lot of ice in this games. For us, it’s more training than competition.

“We are on the ice a lot for preparations and we will also have a few friendly games to see where we are and what we can make better.”