As a member of Team Italia’s coach at the 2017 ISBHF World Championships, it was a treasured opportunity for Diana Brown to tap into her ball hockey roots. When Italia made their first appearance in the ISBHF Worlds, gracing the court at the 2011 edition, hosted in St. John’s, Newfoundland, it represented a milestone for Brown, who made her ISBHF coaching debut with Italia.
Such a milestone would prove to be the beginning of an upward ascension towards greatness. Eventually serving as Canada’s head coach, she led a dominant squad to its second consecutive ISBHF gold medal in 2015, emerging victorious in Zug, Switzerland.
In that same year, Brown achieved a rare yet celebrated place in Canadian ball hockey history. Complementing her world championship with one at the national level, it was a fantastic feat.
As the head coach for the Toronto Shamrocks, which also featured Team Italia player Flora Panunzio on the coaching staff, the result for Brown was a CBHA national title. Taking on Newfoundland United in the gold medal game, Jenny Brine, a Team Canada alum, would score the overtime winning tally, etching her own place in the game’s prominence.
With such an amazing body of work, Brown was a welcome presence, returning to Team Italia in 2017. Consisting of a roster that was optimistic at the possibility of their first-ever podium finish, a renowned coach such as Brown brought a heightened sense of importance to their admirable ambitions.
In reflecting on the decision to join Italia, there was a tremendous source of motivation for Brown in the fact that she saw a unique opportunity to cultivate a promising collection of talent, and subsequently, help establish a solid foundation for the program’s future,
“I like that Women’s team Italy is still a developing program. My passion as a coach lies with player development so I believe that this program is a good match for what I want to accomplish. Being able to help these players and this program become more successful has been a great opportunity for me.”
The Italia roster included a combination of veteran competitors and new faces with university ice hockey experience. Headlined by Christina and Pamela D’Ambrogio, one of four sets of sisters donning the Italia colors, Annalisa Mazzarello and Nicole Corriero, there was a player familiar to Brown among the new faces.
Undoubtedly, the level of university talent that comprised Italia’s roster in 2017 certainly made an impression on Brown. Having served on the coaching staff back in 2013, when the ISBHF Worlds were hosted in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Brown quickly noticed that the quality of talent in 2017 indicated that it was a program that significantly evolved.
“The composition of the team has changed significantly since 2013. Back then the team was made up largely of recreational players with limited competitive hockey experience.
In 2015, the team started to draw in players with a stronger hockey background and this has continued into 2017. The program now boasts a large number of players with CIS, NCAA or other international competitive experience which translated into a more competitive team at the 2017 tournament in Pardubice.
With the addition of some strong player leaders on this year’s team and a continued focus on expanding our player base I am confident that Team Italy will be a team to watch out for in future tournaments.”
Among the star players on Italia’s roster in 2017 was one that was a very familiar face for Brown. Having played under the tutelage of Brown on a victorious Team Canada squad in 2015, Alicia Burletti Blomberg joined her younger sister, currently competing with the Brock Badgers ice hockey team, as part of Team Italia in 2017.
An exciting group of promising young talent also included Nicole and Danielle Paniccia, having both competed in women’s ice hockey for Penn State.
These players definitely benefited from Brown’s acumen and strong leadership. Danielle Paniccia rose to the occasion, posting back-to-back shutouts against Great Britain in the best-of-three series to decide fifth place at the ISBHF Worlds. In addition, Alicia Burletti Blomberg gained a spot on the Tournament All-Star Team, the first member in Team Italia history to achieve this milestone.
Discussing the overall approach to her role as a coach, possessing the strong background as a winning coach, Brown’s method to motivate and encourage the players was based on focus. Although Italia endured a difficult round robin, losing in a shootout to the United States, and faltering to Canada in the third period, after two strong periods that provided thoughts of a possible upset, Brown always sought the constructive aspects that emanated from the game, as the scoreboard was not an accurate reflection of the heart and effort exerted in every game,
“Having coached at National and World championships in the past my objective was to keep everyone focused on their game and what they needed to do in order for the team to be successful.
At these types of tournaments it can be easy to get distracted by things you are not accustomed to, so my aim was to keep everyone focused on the things they have influence and control over and to keep everything else on the sideline. Also, since the scoreboard did not always reflect it, I wanted to make sure the team too was aware of the positive things that came out of every game.”
Among the elements that defined Brown’s experience with Team Italia in Pardubice, there is a distinct pair which rises to the surface. From the outset, the dogged determination was one that made Italia one of the most difficult opponents at the tournament. Even though this hardscrabble team faced more losses than wins, every team that emerged victorious can ascertain that it was hard-earned.
Indeed the other facet which was most prevalent involved the sense of family within the players. Considering that the team’s dinner in the lobby of a Zug hotel served as a concrete moment, establishing a culture of togetherness that has constituted one of its key values. Brown saw its extension two years later as this gathering of promising talent continued to break bread together, a realization that with such unity, there is a true famiglia.
“First, I am really proud of how this group came together as a team in a short period of time and what they accomplished in Pardubice. They competed and played hard right to the final buzzer in every game. There was no quit in these girls. It would have been nice to have come home with a medal, but we took a couple of teams by surprise, holding the USA and Slovakia to a tie in regulation time. To me that was a huge success.
Secondly, I really like that the team felt like one big family. We had dinner together almost every night and there was always a lot of laughter as events of the day and the tournament were recounted at the table. We had a lot of fun and competed hard.”
”All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Daniel Soucek