Among the most endearing facets in sports involves the presence of siblings, especially as teammates. During the calendar year, nowhere was this remarkably accentuated more than with Team Italia at the 2017 ISBHF Women’s Worlds.
Featuring a tournament-high three sets of competitive sisters, there was also a fourth set of sisters. Of note, Flora Ficciola served as the General Manager while team co-founder Luisa graced the court, representing a unique hallmark in team history.
Considering the strong sense of family that already exists within Team Italia’s exceptional culture, to see so many sisters part of the 2017 edition of the roster served to solidify this proud standing. As every successive tournament only adds to Team Italia’s growing lore, this historically captivating impact achieved through these eight wondrous women is a great source of pride for a jubilant Luisa,
“The team has definitely come a long way since then and I am so proud of what we started.”
From the outset, team captain Christina D’Ambrogio, returned for another admirable stint on Italia’s roster as her sister Pamela donned the team colors too. Having first played together for Team Italia at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds in Zug, Switzerland, the chance to be part of international play for a second time only enhanced the experience.
“It means a lot to me to be able to share this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with my sister for the second time. It’s an honour to represent Team Italia at the World stage, let alone share the incredible experience with your sister.
2015 was our first appearance and we both learned a lot of what it would take to win and compete at such a prestige international competition. We’ve both grown as ball hockey players and as sisters.”
As Pamela reflects on the experience in Pardubice, the theme of growth was certainly evident. While her older sister has certainly been a positive influence throughout her entire career, as evidenced by their stellar run as teammates at the high school level, Pardubice presented a new scenario.
Of note, Christina made the transition to defense, resulting in Pamela adjusting to competing with a new set of linemates. Undoubtedly, Christina’s presence on defense was testament to her devotion, while emphasizing her value to the roster, an essential presence that kept the team competitive throughout many contests. Proud of such efforts, it rekindled fond memories for Pamela,
“This year she played defense, so we were not line-mates. I definitely missed cycling on the boards with her and knowing where she will go for a pass. We are so passionate about the game that in some games on the bench our Italian-heritage definitely comes out with how loud we are when we give each-other pointers!
When we talk about the game and try to help each-other out, sometimes other teammates think we are arguing, but it’s just how loud we are! I definitely think it’s the Italian influence (laughs).
Having her on defense definitely brought back many child-hood memories. It reminded me playing high school hockey with her on the Martingrove Bears. I was forward and she was defense, and we went to OFSAA a lot!
It also took me back to when we were both in elementary school, and she played defense for her teams. I would tag along on the long road trips to Aurora, Newmarket, and Whitby etc. I used to love the car rides to away games, mostly because I got to nap and listen to music (laughs).”
Among the heartbeat of Team Italia’s raison d’etre, Christina and Pamela D’Ambrogio were not only crucial components in the roster’s leadership structure. Their role in Pardubice placed them in the admirable role of mentors, welcoming the new competitors making their debut for Team Italia, fostering friendship and a sense of belonging.
Such a gathering of new and promising talent included a pair of prodigious goaltenders whose careers have run parallel. Despite their age difference, the hockey odyssey of Daniela and Nicole Paniccia has resulted in them playing for the same teams.
Most notably with College Hockey America’s Penn State Nittany Lions, Daniela and Nicole Paniccia may be the greatest sister combination to emerge from the Greater Toronto Area at the goaltending position in a generation.
Starring with the PWHL’s Toronto Jr. Aeros, Nicole appeared in 73 games for the Nittany Lions, also capturing gold with Team Ontario Red at the 2009-10 Canadian U18 nationals.
Beginning her NCAA career as the CHA Goaltender of the Month for Sept/Oct 2016, Daniela recorded three straight shutouts. Having set numerous Nittany Lions freshman goaltending records, including saves, wins and shutouts, she also brings a strong PWHL pedigree, having appeared in the provincial championships with the Oakville Jr. Hornets.
Having recently finished her freshman campaign with the Nittany Lions, Daniela is building on her older sister’s proud legacy, while serving as a building block for the program, eager to claim its first College Hockey America championship.
As Team Italia presented Daniela and Nicole with the first, yet highly cherished opportunity to be teammates for the first time, it was a moment that served to strengthen the already unbreakable bonds of love and friendship between the two. That sense of family also extended to Penn State, as Daniela recounts that many Nittany Lions shared in the sense of pride at their teammate adding international play to a sterling hockey resume,
“It was definitely an awesome experience to be able to play with my sister on Team Italia. As you mentioned, we are both Penn Staters and have played in Oakville growing up but have never actually had the chance to be teammates due to the 5 year age gap so it was a new and great experience with my sister!
I was so proud of her as she stood on her head every game she played and was also just a great leader on our team. Some of my teammates from Penn State definitely wished us both good luck and knowing both Nicole and I, knew we would have a great time being able to travel together as well.”
Among the players making their debut for Team Italia in Pardubice, Nicole, whose series of valiant performances for the roster established her as one of the event’s shining stars took on more glitter. Statistically, she emerged as one of the finest goaltenders, ranking second overall in save percentage (.942), trailing only Canada’s Kristen Sugiyama. Appearing in five games, posting a shutout against Great Britain in the opening game of the fifth place series was her finest hour. Simultaneously, it inspired and rejuvenated a team whose ambitious podium hopes did not materialize, clinching fifth place with a second straight shutout against the British.
“Playing for team Italia was a huge honour. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be able to represent our country. I had a blast during the tournament and my teammates were amazing!”
In spite of Nicole being a novice in the sport, possessing less than a year’s experience, her lifetime of skill on the ice resulted in a seamless transition. Although goaltenders are able to strategically use the ice to their advantage, Nicole’s ability to adapt is testament to her world-class skills.
“I was really proud of myself to be able to come second in the tournament. I was very nervous going into it because I have only been playing ball hockey for about six months. Ball hockey is actually pretty different than ice hockey as a goalie because you can’t slide. Considering all of this I was very happy with my performance!”
The initial Team Italia sojourn for Alicia and Carley Furletti-Blomberg also bore similarity to the Paniccia sisters. With an age difference between the two that made it impossible for them to be teammates at the competitive level during their formative years, Team Italia presented them with an opportunity to remedy this.
For younger sister Carley, who recently completed her freshman campaign for the Brock University Badgers varsity women’s ice hockey team in the Ontario University Athletics Conference (scoring in her team debut in a 3-2 win against Ryerson on October 13, 2016), she was one of two Badgers competing internationally. Teammate Lisa Buratynski competed for Canada at the World Ball Hockey Federation World Championships in Litomerice, Czech Republic.
Seeing action in all seven games, Carley gained the opportunity to do more than just call Alicia a teammate. Of note, the two were also linemates in Pardubice, representing a proud career milestone that shall supply a lifetime of memories.
“Alicia has been a major role model for me. I always looked up to her growing up. Being able to call someone I look up to my teammate and play on the same line as her was amazing.
When I was younger I would go to her hockey games and sit and watch her from the stands wishing I could be out there playing with her. Playing with team Italy was the first time we ever got to play on the same team together so finally being able to give her passes and scoring opportunities and cheering her on from the bench was great.”
If any player on Team Italia’s roster could be considered a “rock star”, it was definitely Alicia. From the outset, she captured two gold medals as a member of Team Canada’s roster at the 2013 and 2015 ISBHF Worlds. In addition, Diana Brown, who was Canada’s head coach in 2015, was part of Italia’s coaching staff in 2017.
“Well, having played for Diana in 2015, I was well aware of what to expect in terms of coaching. I was excited to know that she would be leading the team as one of many great coaches on the Italian roster. Diana does a great job of balancing both the competitiveness and fun of the sport which is extremely important to me as an athlete.”
Such achievement only scratches the surface of Alicia’s stunning body of work. In addition to five stellar seasons with the Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s ice hockey team (where she called Team Italia’s Samantha Delenardo – the Player of the Game in the 3-0 win against Great Britain – and Team Canada’s Mandi Duhamel teammates), she also established herself as a world-class athlete, competing in the Red Bull Crashed Ice circuit, ranked among the top 10 female racers in the world.
Gaining the privilege of calling her sister a teammate, while reuniting with Brown, truly brought Alicia’s superlative ball hockey career full circle. As Alicia served as a mentor for the younger Carley, the chance to see her blossom into an elite competitor, able to hold her own on the international stage, added an unforgettable luster to a memorable 2017 which also saw Alicia compete on home soil in the first-ever Red Bull Crashed Ice race in Ottawa,
“Having the opportunity to play with my sibling at an international level was the highlight of my career. Many people don’t realize that Carley and I are nine years apart in age, so I have been watching and helping Carley develop from the very beginning of her career. I could not be more proud to have my little sister standing next to me at the World Championships.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Daniel Soucek, Tanja Hutahajan