As every tournament brings with it the capacity for renewal, the sisterly presence on Team Italia presented an exciting new chapter in program history. Assembling the most talented roster ever, there was a tremendous sense of optimism heading into the 2017 ISBHF Women’s Worlds, with dreams of a podium finish fueling the ambitions.
For Luisa Fioccola, the gathering of exceptional talent represented a tremendous point of pride, symbolizing the program’s growing importance and relevance. An inaugural member of Team Italia, Fioccola’s legacy is also enhanced by the fact that she is a co-founder.
With her sister Flora, whose body of work in ball hockey also includes a CBHA national championship as a member of Diana Brown’s coaching staff on the Toronto Shamrocks, this shared journey represents a cherished hallmark in their sisterhood. Undoubtedly, their presence remained essential for the 2017 edition of Team Italia as Flora took on the role of General Manager, while Luisa was among the veteran leaders that took to the court in Pardubice.
“Team Italia began in 2012 and I have to say it was the best decision me and my friend Linda made …deciding to form the first ever Women’s Italian ball hockey Team and entering ourselves into the World Ball Hockey Championships, (smiles). Along with the help of Flora, (it) was an experience of a life time that we continue to live every two years and it gets better and better everytime ….so do we (as a team).”
In spite of a fifth place finish, team captain Christina D’Ambrogio was proud at how the team conducted itself with an admirable dignity and perseverance. Embodying grace and sportsmanship, D’Ambrogio reflects how there truly was a strong sense of belonging that made the chance to don Italia’s colors most enjoyable.
With a series of valiant performances throughout the tournament, highlighted by consecutive shutouts against Great Britain, courtesy of Nicole Paniccia and Mary Beth Belissimo, Team Italia played with a tremendous tenacity that will only force other teams to be better prepared at the next Worlds in 2019. The acquisition of highly talented sisters is one that D’Ambrogio points out as a key factor in their successes at Pardubice,
“This group of ladies really came together as one big family. Everyone got along both on and off the floor, which was fabulous to see. Many laughs and bonding moments in our hotel, at team meals, and in the dressing room.
Recruiting more talented sister duos with a competitive background helped our preparation and performance out on the floor. We all came mentally prepared and we each knew what our role was, for us to be successful.”
Admiring the efforts of her big sister, and her ability to set a positive tone as she leads through example with hard work, Pamela D’Ambrogio sincerely relished the opportunity to represent her lineage as a member of Team Italia. Along with Christina, who transitioned to defense for the 2017 Worlds, both were part of the starting lineup for Italia’s opening game.
“What I enjoyed the most about being able to call my sister a teammate is the fact that I got to play on the same team with her and not against her (laughs), as crazy as that sounds!! My sister is a very strong, defensive and smart player!
She knows how to pin you against the boards and annoy you in-front of the net to throw you off your game. She is also a very fast runner and is not afraid to sacrifice her body to get the ball away from you. I would definitely not want to be a forward facing her! (laughs)”
Team Italia’s first game in Pardubice was definitely captivating. Competing against the eventual silver medalists, the United States, it held the potential to be the biggest upset of the tournament. Rising to the occasion by scoring Italia’s first goal of the game (and tournament), Alicia Furletti-Blomberg continued to establish her as one of the world’s finest forwards in ball hockey. Adding luster to such a milestone was the fact that her younger sister Carley gained the assist on said goal.
Playing on a line with Carley and Pamela D’Ambrogio, there was a sense of high energy and adrenaline for Furletti-Blomberg. Combining such elements, this sensational spitfire was always capable of changing the outcome of any game with her smooth stickhandling skills, definitely setting pulses pounding for a surprised American roster.
While Carley’s initial sojourn into the larger world of international ball hockey brought with it the obligatory jitters, such feelings evaporated as the game against the United States progressed. Instead, a feeling of pride rose to the surface, ecstatic at a shared milestone with her big sister, one destined to stand as a pillar of achievement.
“I was very nervous walking into the first game as I had never played at a game at such an elite level but I was very proud putting on the Italian jersey for the first time.”
The first game also represented a significant milestone for Daniela Paniccia. Displaying a tremendous maturity, she went from her comfort zone to a growing zone, abandoning the crease to play on the court. With older sister Nicole guarding Team Italia’s crease, she was beaming with pride at her remarkable work ethic, playing with the poise of a veteran.
As a side note, Daniela’s role was akin to 2015 Team Italia member Liz Knox, a longtime goaltender who captured the Brodrick Trophy in Canadian Interuniversity Sport play. Knox did not play in her traditional position in Zug, instead competing on the defense. In both cases, the superb on-ice vision of these phenomenal backstops translated into a solid ability to analyze the game’s tempo, providing a unique perspective to their newly adopted positions.
“It was very interesting seeing and playing the game from the forward position. My whole life, I have played midfield at a high level of soccer so I was used to the running which definitely helped.
The first couple shifts of the tournament were pretty nerve wracking but as it went on I became more and more comfortable with the position and my team and coaches were amazing with answering any questions I had.”
Sharing in the milestone of that first game with Daniela was her older sister. Given the start against the United States, Nicole showed tremendous mettle, displaying the kind of talent that could have easily gained her Most Outstanding Goaltender honors at the tournament.
Facing 29 shots against the United States, Nicole was solid in overtime, continuously nullifying the efforts of her opponents, forcing a shootout to determine the victor. Although the outcome was not in Italia’s favor, Nicole emerged as a revelation, providing the program with a cornerstone between the pipes for the foreseeable future.
Although Nicole enjoyed the privilege of calling her younger sister a teammate, there was also an element of levity involved. Traditionally both goaltenders, they are accustomed to having one sister in the stands watching the other guard the crease. To see Daniela out on the court represented a very unique experience. Although it was different, it was also welcomed, as Nicole felt that the cerebral approach required of a goaltender was most beneficial on the court, as Daniela’s efforts were crucial in frustrating opposing offenses.
“It was pretty funny to be able to call Daniela my teammate. Usually we watch each other from the sidelines. It was pretty funny playing with her because we truly are each others biggest fans. It was pretty comforting too knowing that I had another high level goalie on the floor with me. I asked her for advice about my play and she was really helpful.”
As Pamela reveals, the presence of so many sisters on Italia’s roster resulted in a strong sense of rapport among all of them. Such rapport was also unique as a generation gap emerged, one which saw the older sisters definitely display their protective yet compassionate side.
Like sentinels, the older sisters watched over their younger sisters with a heart-warming sense of consideration. Taking into account that several of the older sisters were much more worldly, while the younger sisters were experiencing the milestone of international play (and the travel that comes with it), their vigorous joie-de-vivre encompassing such a memorable sojourn, it was truly uplifting to see the touching concern. As Pamela reflects, it is a scenario that she encountered in her earlier years, one that is observed now with a comical wisdom,
“I would most certainly say there was rapport amongst the youngest siblings and a separate rapport amongst the oldest siblings (laughs). What I mean is, the oldest siblings most certainly always had their eye on the younger ones.
For example, always made sure we were on the bus or at the hotel late at night or if we were out and about, where we were. Watching Alicia Furletti-Furletti-Blomberg and Nicole Paniccia concerned about their younger siblings safety and happiness throughout the trip definitely reminded me of my sister and how she acts with me (laughs).”
The connection between the siblings extended further, as Pamela not only found herself with one of them as a roommate, the experience of playing on a line with the sensational Furletti-Blomberg sisters added a new perspective on the game. Considering that Alicia is considered one of the world’s finest forwards, the privilege of playing alongside her represented a proud milestone for Pamela. As a side note, she would add another achievement before tournament’s end, logging Player of the Game honors in a 2-0 victory over Great Britain to clinch fifth place.
“I actually roomed with our goalie Nicole Paniccia, who is the older sister of Daniela Paniccia. I also played with the Furletti-Blomberg sisters on a line, so I guess you could say I was around sisters the whole week (laughs).
The Paniccia and the Furletti-Blomberg sisters are both so talented, kind-hearted and out-going individuals! Each brought so much talent and character to the team. Their skill, dedication and passion definitely made us very competitive in the tournament.”
Coincidentally, Christina D’Ambrogio’s first assist in the tournament was an assist on a goal scored by Alicia Furletti-Blomberg in a very hard-fought 4-1 loss to Canada, which was still anyone’s game in the third period.
Alicia Furletti-Blomberg would finish as the leading scorer for Italia at the 2017 ISBHF Worlds. Also recognized with Player of the Game honors in the 1-0 loss to Great Britain, their first win in program history, she would add to her hockey hardware with honors in a 1-0 shootout loss to Slovakia, which truly affirmed Italia’s status as a team not to take lightly.
Had Italia emerged victorious in the shootout against the United States and Slovakia, they would have definitely qualified for the medal round. With three losses by a margin of merely one goal, the program holds the potential to reach a significant breakthrough in 2019, snapping its medal drought.
Ending the tournament with consecutive shutouts against Great Britain, clinching fifth place, Italia prevailed in a cumulative score of 5-0, with goals by Nicole Corriero, Samantha Delenardo (recognized twice in the tournament with Player of the Game honors), and Jen Momile. It was an impressive showing highlighted by superlative goaltending, which is poised to be the foundation for future teams. As eight different Italia players logged at least one point, there were many positives that shall serve as an encouraging springboard towards reaching greater heights.
With Italia remaining tenacious throughout the tournament, gaining the respect of its opponents, while instilling the belief in themselves that they were capable of playing competitively against some of the powerhouse programs, it was the kind of tournament that represented more than just a turning point. Such admirable effort signified the continued evolution of Team Italia.
As the sister who has set the gold standard for grace, perseverance and sportsmanship, Christina D’Ambrogio not only credits the positive presence of the team’s record number of sisters reflects. With great maturity and leadership, definitely a cornerstone for the program, the high regards that she holds the team in is one that will help shape Italia into a model program for seasons to come.
“I am very proud of the effort my teammates brought to each and very game – we battled for the full 45 minutes and we fought hard until the very last buzzer. This effort shows a lot of character.
First game of the tournament we were up against USA 1-0. If we were able to hold onto the win, it would have been a game changer and the biggest upset of the tournament! We made a lot of people take notice of Women’s Team Italia. In addition, we earned the respect of our opponents with our performance and sportsmanship throughout the tournament.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Daniel Soucek, Tanja Hutahajan Image of Fioccola sisters obtained from Facebook