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Team Italia Experience Irreplaceable for Pamela D’Ambrogio

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Over the last few years, women’s hockey has seen a rise in the number of sisters that play together. The Lamoureux sisters may be the most famous pair, having played in the Winter Games for Team USA. Chelsea and Winny Brodt became the first sisters to win the Clarkson Cup, while Bailey and Shelby Bram have called each other teammates at the NCAA level, along with the Canadian U22/Development team.

At the 2015 ISBHF Worlds in Zug, Switzerland, Christina and Pamela D’Ambrogio had the opportunity to compete together for Team Italia, extending the impact of sisters in the game of women’s ice hockey. Adding to the magic of such a milestone in their careers was that the two were also line mates.

For Pamela, who wore number 28, the chance to call her older sister Christina (donning number 72) a line mate was a special moment in her hockey career. While the two have been teammates at the high school level in ice hockey and in the Greater Toronto Women’s Ball Hockey League, the Team Italia experience represented an unprecedented time for both, one also shared with their grandparents prior to their flight for Zug.

“It was an honor to play for Team Italia and a thrilling opportunity to play with my sister. I have played on the same team as my sister before for our Martingrove Bears high school ice hockey team; however, I have never actually played on the same line as her! 

Playing winger on my sister’s line for the very first time was inspiring and incredible! It was great to go overseas and play with someone who you know supports you and has your back. I still remember the morning of our flight, we both drove to my Nonna’s and Nonno’s house to show them our Team Italia jerseys. Our Nonna was so proud that is read “D’Ambrogio” on the back! 

It also brought back many memories from our childhood such as playing road hockey on our street with wooden hockey sticks, shinny on out-door rinks that are tennis courts in the summer time, and taking road trips with our parents all around Ontario, Canada for our rep teams to play the game we love.” 

In Italy’s first win, a 6-2 final against Switzerland on June 23, the D’Ambrogio sisters would both contribute the assists to Italy’s first goal of the tournament, scored by Frances Russo. During the tournament, Christina was also the captain for Team Italia, an accomplishment that Pamela was exceptionally proud of.

Although Pamela, a graduate of the University of Guelph did not continue her ice hockey career at the post secondary level, she was very proud of what her sister accomplished as a player in NCAA Division III. With Holy Cross, D’Ambrogio appeared in more than 100 games, while also serving as captain.

“It was also very accomplishing to play on my sister’s line. I mean, she was attended College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, MA) on a hockey scholarship and was also captain of that team; she was also captain of Team Italia. Playing on the captain’s line, who is a role model, is an honor. Yet, it also made me pretty nervous knowing our line was looked upon to deliver every time we stepped on the rink.

I still remember when our line scored the team’s first goal of the tournament against Switzerland. I won the battle on the boards, passed the ball to my sister behind the net, she then tapped passed the ball to Russo (our other line mate) who was in front of the net, and Russo shot the ball in the left top hand corner. The exhilaration and excitement that took over my body the moment the ball hit the back of the net is a life time experience that I will never forget.” 

One of the unique aspects of Team Italia was its proud connection to the Greater Toronto Area. With half of the roster comprised of players that hailed from the GTA, including competitors in the Greater Toronto Women’s Ball Hockey League, it was a chance for a proud group of Italian Canadians to honor their heritage.

In addition, one of the teams competing in the GTWBHL was called Forza Italia. In the aftermath of the regular season, their leading scorer was Frances Russo, who also competed on Team Italia’s roster in Zug.

There was also a proud Italian connection with the leadership in the GTWBHL as Flora Pannunzio served as league Vice President and Convener while Luisa Fioccola, also a member of the Team Italia roster, was the league’s treasurer. D’Ambrogio reflects on her opportunity to be considered for a roster spot.

“Team Italia needed more players on their roster. My sister told the General Manager that she had a younger sister who was an ice-hockey player. The General Manager reached out to me via email, inviting me to Team Italia’s next practice to try out. I was then asked to play on Team Italia and to join them in Switzerland.” 

During D’Ambrogio’s Team Italia experience, she was surrounded by other highly accomplished women in hockey. Of note, she had the chance to call Nicole Corriero, one of the most successful Italian-Canadians in the history of NCAA women’s ice hockey, as a teammate. In addition, she would get the chance to play alongside CWHL stars such as Clarkson Cup champion Kori Cheverie and Liz Knox, also a former member of the Canadian national women’s ice hockey team. 

“Most certainly!  They are very talented hockey players and it was an honor to play on the same team as them. Their personalities are heart whelming and motivating and also every encouraging off and on the ice.  I am very thankful to play alongside such great super stars!” 

Being surrounded by such stars would result in her favorite moment in Zug. Considering that Zug represented Cheverie’s first playing experience in Switzerland, even star players were experiencing new milestones in their career.

Through it all, the chance to build friendships and participate in team bonding was highlighted by breaking bread together. With everyone playing their own role by preparing a unique meal in the team’s hotel, the activity truly took on the essence of teamwork, becoming more than just a team in the process, but a proud family. 

“In Zug, there were many moments that stood out for me, such as, looking at Old Zug from the Old Clock Tower, boat paddling on the lake in Old Zug, going to the Chocolate factory and seeing the beautiful mountains driving from our hotel to the arena.  

However, the one moment that stood out for me was the second in night in Zug. Our hotel rooms had kitchenettes in them.  The second night we were there, Michelle (who is a forward) made the tomato sauce and everyone else boiled pasta in their rooms. 

We then took all the desks and chairs from our rooms into the hallway and built a long table. We sat down, assembled our pasta dishes and ate dinner together outside in the hallway.

From that night onwards, every day we would go to the grocery store, buy groceries and come back to the hotel and all make dinner with each other. I still remember the night we made stir fray and all of us were in Linda, Nikki and Luisa’s room cutting the red peppers and mushrooms! Moments like that, you will never forget.” 

The family experience was extended in another unique way. Of note, Father’s Day occurred during the ISBHF Worlds in Zug. While all the players were separated from their families back home for the event, emotions were still high for the team. Considering that members of the coaching staff were fathers, equally separated from their own families, it reflected a moment where the coaching staff became surrogate fathers for an entire team, proud to share the Team Italia experience with them.

“Team Italia, we are not just a team, we are family.  We all contribute unique qualities to the team, whether it was off and/or off the ice. All the ladies, including our Coaches, Trainer and General Manager are amazing individuals and I am so lucky to call them my family. 

Our Coaches, General Manager and Trainer always put the players’ needs first, whether it was to discuss a play, pulled a muscle or even needing water bottles for our games since we forgot those in Canada (laughs). 

I still remember on Father’s Day, we were waiting for the train to go see Old Zug, and we all stood on the train platform hugging our four coaches wishing them happy Father’s Day.”

Upon reflection, the ISBHF experience is one that has provided D’Ambrogio with more than just a lifetime of memories. From the privilege of competing in international hockey, to the admiration she holds for her older sister, it strengthened what was already an unbreakable bond, paying tribute to a game that provided both with great enjoyment in their lives.   

“My sister and I had pretty good and instant chemistry playing with each other, and a lot of that had to do with us knowing how each other play from growing up with each other at the hockey rinks. She is a passive center-man who is very good at supporting her line-mates and is excellent at winning her face offs. Myself, I am a very aggressive player. My best game is along the boards. If there is a battle in the boards, I make sure I come out of the battle with the ball/puck on my stick.    

My sister was a great Captain, very encouraging, responsible and also the reason why we never go lost in Zug. She always had the directions for our destinations! It was an honor to play for Team Italia and also to be chosen to play on my sister’s line.” 

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Official Team Italia image obtained from: http://zug2015.com/en/teams/women/group-5/ita-italy/

Other images supplied by Pamela D’Ambrogio

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