In the aftermath of the 2017 ISBHF Worlds in Pardubice, Czech Republic, one of the most heartfelt portraits of friendship and devotion belonged to Team Italia. With a roster that featured three competing sets of sisters, their captivating magnetism elicited enticing feelings.
Highlighted by team captain Christina DAmbrogio and her younger sister Pamela, they were joined by the likes of two-time ISBHF gold medalist Alicia Furletti-Blomberg and Carley Blomberg, from the OUAs Brock Badgers club. Plus Nicole and Daniela Paniccia, who have both played NCAA hockey at Penn State, were making their ISBHF debuts in 2017.
Such an illuminating time was also enhanced by the fact that there was actually a fourth set of sisters. Luisa Fioccola, one of the co-founders of Team Italia, whose efforts to help build ball hockey on both sides of the Atlantic represents a proud sporting legacy, was joined by her sister Flora, who served in the capacity of General Manager.
Although there is already a feeling of fond nostalgia about this remarkable group of women, tightening the bonds of love between all the sisters, this highly fulfilling athletic journey was also a source of motivation for the entire team.
Such a strong familial influence definitely permeated Team Italia’s strong values. With all the players immersing themselves, fully engaged towards peak performance, the sisterly presence was part of a much larger narrative, one that Pamela D’Ambrogio describes as an extended family.
“Even though we are sisters by blood, I consider every player on our team a sister! By the end of the tournament, we stopped calling ourselves Team Italia, but rather La Famiglia as we truly are one big family! Walking from the hotel to the rink with the music blasting on the streets of Pardubice, Czech Republic, walking the streets of Prague and wearing that azzurri blue jerseys together and playing our hardest each game – I definitely have these girls backs forever!
It was also pretty funny because even though we were in Czech Republic, every restaurant we ate at was Italian. Thanks to our coaches and trainer who found the restaurants to ensure we ate properly all week (laughs).”
Early on in the tournament, Alicia Furletti-Blomberg quickly established herself as the focal point of Italia’s offense. Scoring against the eventual silver medalist United States in Italias opening game, which saw her sister Carley gain the assist; such an effort was complemented by the teams stingy defense, which forced a shootout.
Such stingy performances continued during the tournament as the defense, which was led by captain Christina D’Ambrogio, continued to provide a series of solid performances, while Alicias assiduous efforts made her the heartbeat of the Italia offense. Said efforts paid remarkable dividends as she was recognized as Italia’s Player of the Game in solid efforts against Great Britain and a shootout loss to Slovakia, in which each game was determined by one goal.
Among the highlights of Alicia’s initial odyssey with Team Italia involved competing against the two-time defending champions Team Canada, of which she was a member in 2013 and 2015. As Team Italia allows for Heritage Players (Alicia and Carley’s mother is of Italian origin), the roster features a handful of players born in Canada.
Scoring against Canada at the start of the third period, trimming their lead by one goal, the scoreboard reading 2-1, there was great potential for an upset. Although Canada bounced back in the latter half of the third, Alicias outstanding play on offense certainly kept Italia competitive, raising the teams profile in Pardubice.
By tournaments end, Alicia not only finished as Team Italias leading scorer, she became the first member of the team to gain a spot on the Tournament All-Stars. While her sterling ball hockey career has included a remarkable number of awards and accolades, including a Canadian Ball Hockey Association national championship, this honor may have been the most treasured in her career,
“The All-Star Team award is always an honor to receive but being the first Italian player to ever receive it makes the award that much more special. I think it speaks for the hard work and development that is currently happening within the Italian National Ball Hockey Federation. All-Star Awards recognize individuals but there is always a team of people supporting that All-Star and without them this award would unattainable.”
In the fight for fifth place, it also resulted in some other treasured milestones for Italias sensational sisters. As Italia and Great Britain graced the court in a best 2-out-of-3 scenario, the result was a coming-out party for goaltender Nicole Paniccia.
Having played her NCAA hockey with the Penn State Nittany Lions, Nicole treasured the opportunity to call her younger sister Danielle a teammate. With Danielle entering her sophomore season as Penn States goaltender, she actually played outside of her usual position, competing on defense.
Considering Danielle’s strong on-court vision, attributed to an innate attention to detail from her many seasons as a goaltender, her presence was a strong complement to her older sister, key factors in the teams competitiveness throughout the tournament.
As the game against Great Britain to begin the fifth place series was Nicoles final start of the tournament, she helped instill confidence in her teammates, as she was integral in a 3-0 shutout which saw goals from Nicole Corriero (a former standout with the Harvard Crimson womens ice hockey program), Jen Mormile, and former Ottawa Gee-Gees ice hockey captain Samantha Delenardo, who was recognized with Player of the Game honors for Italia.
With Mary-Beth Belissimo (part of the 2015 roster) gaining Italias second shutout against Great Britain, a 2-0 final, it helped set the tone for what emerged as a fairy-tale ending for the experience of all the sisters competing in Pardubice.
The aftermath of the 2-0 shutout final certainly held a strong sense of pride for Pamela DAmbrogio, as she obtained her own hockey hardware. Recognized as Italias Player of the Game, it was affirmation of her solid work ethic, and evidence that a player does not always need to score to make a profound impact in a game.
“I did win player of the game against Great Britain!! I was definitely not expecting this at all!! I was shocked and super grateful! I remember when they announced my name and number, I looked at Frances Russo and asked if they actually said my name (laughs). I mean, I tried to play my best and fight my hardest each game, but I never thought I would get MVP!
There are so many talented players at the National level! But, it was pretty awesome knowing you and your game was recognized especially at this level. But, I may add, that I would not have played or had the opportunities I had each game from the motivation and encouragement I received from my teammates and coaches!”
For the Paniccia sisters, the chance to pay tribute to their heritage while competing on an international stage added new luster to their proud hockey legacies. As Danielle prepares for her second season of Penn State hockey, joined by freshmen recruits Chantal Burke and Cam Leonard, she also extends the legacy of her older sister, one of the first stars in program history.
Nicole, whose hockey resume also includes working as a former brand ambassador for the Edmonton Oilers, plus a marketing internship for Penn State hockey, once considered playing professional ice hockey in Italy. The chance to play for Team Italia, sharing in this unique experience with her younger sister Daniela strengthened the bonds between them.
Returning home to proud friends and family following a strong finish at Pardubice, it represented the final chapter in a proud hockey chapter for these two sensational sisters, as Nicole mentions,
“Upon our return, we were able to tell some amazing and funny stories about our experience both on the floor and just throughout our traveling experiences. Our friends and family were both very happy for us and proud of us for representing Team Italia. We were both very lucky to have such support from our family and friends throughout our whole experience.”
As team captain for the second straight tournament, Christina DAmbrogio is the kind of strong leader that helps to nurture the concept of encouragement and collaboration. Such values represent the foundation upon which the paradigm of success and respect are subsequently built upon.
“Throughout the tournament, Team Italia played very competitively. Such an effort is one that made a significant impression on DAmbrogio, proud to call these terrific players her teammates, and more importantly, her friends, affirming the sense of family that has defined the culture of such a promising team,
We have grown and we’re a much more competitive team compared to two years ago. We were never dominated by an opponent and at certain points of the game we were dominating the play! Unfortunately the scoreboard didn’t reflect how well we played. This is an area we must improve – and will for 2019.”
All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated