October 16, 2011
Back in March, Kontinental Hockey League boss Alexander Medvedev discussed a time-honored European tradition: Growing an empire by conquering other countries.
Otherwise known as the KHL's Western European expansion.
HC Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia has been chatted up as new addition for the 2012-13 season. There's been talking about adding a Finnish club. But the most intriguing, and frankly peculiar, targets was Italy.
Peculiar in the sense that it's not seen as a hockey market; consider that the Stadio Olympico used for the 2006 Winter Games had its rink removed while the torch was still smoldering, converted into a soccer stadium. The 2011 IIHF rankings finds Italy at No. 17.
The way Milano Rossoblu hockey club president Ico Miglore sees it, joining a professional league is a way to transform Milan into a professional hockey market. So his team has agreed to join the KHL in 2012.
"They have finally agreed that we have the capability in terms of organization to join the league," Miglore explained. "Of course, it is not going to be a superstar team from the very beginning — we need time to develop."
"The 2006 Winter Olympics didn't affect the popularity of hockey in the country at all," Massimo Da Rin, Milano Rossoblu coach, said. "Of course, the Games were a great event for the Italian people, stadiums were renovated, and a lot of infrastructure developed, so some local clubs gained a lot then — but not the Italian game as a whole. In this respect, the KHL is another chance for us. Not only for Milan, but for the entire country to take a significant step forward."
There's a bit of institutional cynicism about the KHL's fortunes in Italy. Daniele Amadasi of Tuttohockey told Sports.ru that "sure, we would like to see KHL games in Italy, but technically it's almost impossible. It would be cheaper to develop our own league."
Italian journalist Alessandro Seren Rosso went into detail about why the KHL would struggle in Milan, including:
• Facilities, as the team's current arena holds 4,500 fans but draws about 1,000 per game.
• The market may not be interested in seeing local teams against teams based in Russia or the Czech Republic: "One of the main problems of hockey in Western Europe - provincialism. The Italian fans are very enthusiastic to visit matches against a team from the regional league, [but] do not visit [teams that are] little-known to them."
Then there's available talent for teams, specifically local stars to market around. Bruce Peter of Puck Worlds wrote that "with such a low standard to build a team around in terms of both local and foreign hockey players in Italy, the team would be starting from a real disadvantage."
Well, there's always Rico Fata. And maybe Jason Muzzatti will come out of retirement to play goal. If nothing else, they've got a hell of a statistician.