Like a fine Italian wine Fruitvale hockey player Patrick Iannone gets better with age.
The 30-year-old Iannone got in some last minute ice-time with many of Greater Trail’s best young hockey players this week to prepare for his 10th campaign in the Series A Italian Hockey League.
Despite limited ice time, the former Beaver Valley Nitehawk has been training hard all summer and jumped at the chance to skate with the Champions Hockey Camp this week.
“I’m at the gym every morning at 6 a.m. so I get a good hour and 45 minutes in everyday of training, and I’ve been doing that all summer since I got home,” said Iannone. “Now that the ice is in, it does help for sure, so you know I’m ready to go.”
Iannone leaves for Italy Saturday, returning to the team he played with four years ago in Brunico, Italy – the HC Val Pusteria Wolves.
The talented forward has been near the top of team scoring since joining the league, and a regular fixture on the Italian National Team for the past seven years.
“It’s been good, I can’t complain. You know it’s hard being away from the family for that long, but I’ve been given a great opportunity and I’ve made it work.”
The son of local hockey legend Del Iannone, Patrick and wife Stephanie welcomed their first-born daughter Mila to the family in October. Once he gets settled in Brunico his young family will join him for the hockey season, a unique experience that he embraces.
“It’s awesome, a few sleepless nights, a few tired days at the rink, but other than that – it got me in bed earlier,” he added. “Italy’s pretty nice too, you know obviously the food, the wine, and the scenery, and there’s lots to do.”
Val Pusteria finished first overall in the premiere league last season, but lost to Bolzano in the championship game.
“The hockey is really good, every team has really good imports and the Italian players are really good so it’s a lot higher caliber than people think. This year, the main thing is I want to win the championship with my club team.”
Even more significant in 2013 is the left winger’s chance to make the 2014 Olympic Games.
“In February with the national team we have the qualifiers in Germany. We’ve got three games to qualify for the Olympics so that would obviously be a pretty neat thing to do.”
Iannone has played in three World Championships including last year’s tournament in Stockholm, Sweden in May.
The Italian team won the berth by winning the IIHF Div. 1 Hockey Championship in Budapest, Hungary a month earlier, but was relegated after losing to Latvia in the final game of the Worlds.
“Any time you get to play against Canada, Russia, Sweden – the best teams and players in the world – it’s an opportunity that I’m very fortunate to have, and more or less just to say you did it too, it’s definitely something I’ll remember for a long time.”
Iannone and the Italians will have another chance to get back to the Worlds at the Div. 1 championship in April, but rising to the top of the first division won’t be easy, says Iannone, with teams like the Ukraine, Kazakstan, Slovenia, and Hungary to beat.
Still, Iannone has won at every step of his career, helping the Nitehawks to a KIJHL championship, and the Kootenay Ice to the Western Hockey League title and a trip to the Memorial Cup, in addition to the latest IIHF Div. 1 championship.
The odds may be long, but making it to Sochi, Russia could be the icing on the proverbial cake of a solid hockey career.
“Olympics would be great. It would be obviously a dream come true, amazing for sure.”
The Italian team narrowly missed a trip to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics losing the qualifier final again to Latvia.
“We’ve just got to somehow win our couple games and get into the Olympics. It’s not easy but we can do it.”
Despite the increasing competition and young emerging blood, after almost a decade in the league the former Tri-City American feels he is just hitting his stride.
“It’s funny, I’m finding the older I get the easier it’s getting. I don’t know if it’s I’m finally getting a little smarter out there but it’s fun and good to see.”
Something his numbers bear out. Iannone has averaged 1.2 points per game in his last four years, opposed to 0.82 in the previous five. At that rate, he may well be ripe for success in Sochi in 2014.
Hockey Notes: Among the skaters at the the Champions Hockey School are recent Yale graduate Kevin Limbert, Quinnipiac’s Connor and Kellen Jones and Travis St. Denis, Sahir Gill of Boston University, Ryan Luiten- Brookes Bandits, and Ella Matteucci Clarkson University. Check out the evening scrimmages at the Trail Memorial Centre at 9 p.m.