Ranked 16 in the IIHF World Rankings, the Team Italy underdogs have a lot to prove.
The young team — with 14 players born in 2000 or later — recently defeated Kazakhstan, Spain, and Chinese Taipei in the first round of qualification games. Next up is the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament this weekend, where they’ll face Denmark, Germany, and Austria with their eye on making the 2022 Olympics.
The first set of games were played in Italy, and for Marta Mazzocchi, it was her first opportunity to compete with the senior team in an official competition. Marta scored an important goal in the pre-qualifiers against Spain and the U18 captain said she felt disbelief at being able to contribute in that way. Going into the Füssen tournament, she’s feeling at ease. “Now we don’t have anything to lose. They do, they have all the pressure,” she said.
Amie Varano, an American-born player who got her Italian citizenship three years ago via her heritage, also made her official Team Italy debut at the prequalifying tournament. Covid cancellations to competitions the last several years delayed her debut until recently.
For her, the experience was absolutely surreal and her mother, who flew out to watch the games, got teary-eyed at seeing her in the Italian sweater for the first time. She felt they had a lot to prove going into the pre-qualifiers, to the world and themselves. Going into this next round, see feels excited by the opportunity to play a team of Germany’s caliber.
Another player candidly expressed a different sentiment, fear of being blown out by Germany. She recollected a time of losing 9-0 to them.
Valentina Bettarini, the only player who remains from the 2006 Olympic squad, hopes to be the voice of calm for any nervous teammates. After years of play, Bettarini said that each time she wears the national team jersey she feels a new excitement and sense of pride in the privilege to represent her country.
She couldn’t wait to get back at it for the pre-qualifiers, as the tournament marked their first official games since 2019. She believes in the talent of the young players on the team and said going into the prequalification round as the highest rank team was the confidence boost they needed. She’s very adamant, however, that the team is not satisfied with merely making it to this next round of Olympic qualifications, even though it is the first time in the countries history making it this far.
During friendly games, Bettarini thinks Team Italy has proved it can be a legitimate competitor and isn’t scared by the rankings of the upcoming opponents.
The team focus going into the tournament will be strong defensive play and staying calm, both aspects of which are Bettarini’s bread-and-butter and ones when hopes to lead on. She feels confident in the team's strength and conditioning preparation and that their endurance will be a big asset. She noted that the sacrifices players have made, missing school and work, and hopes that the additional training camps added to their program this year will pay dividends.
A bid to the 2022 Beijing Olympics would mark the first time Team Italy ever qualified as a non-host and Betta thinks it would change the landscape of girls’ and women’s hockey in Italy. She hopes the increased attention and media coverage will spread awareness and bring more support.
Diana Taurasi, WNBA legend, said, “Why can’t old people dream too?” And Bettarini has her heart set on a second Olympics. She said the team won’t be satisfied with anything less than an Olympic bid.
The games begin November 11th.
Nov 11: Italy v Denmark @ 8:45 pm CET
Nov 13: Italy v Germany @ noon CET
Nov 14: Italy v Austria @ 3:30 pm CET