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The Italian national team will eye for promotion to the top division with some celebrity in the coaching staff. Lou Vairo was named as new head coach for the upcoming tournament and technical coordinator of hockey at the Italian Ice Sports Federation and will be assisted by Ivano Zanatta, Stefan Mair and Roberto Scelfo.

The 69-year-old coach born in Brooklyn of Italian descent has a big international coaching resume. After starting coaching in the ‘70s he became the head coach of the U.S. national team in 1983 leading it to promotion at the 1983 IIHF World Championship B-Pool and to a seventh-place finish in the 1984 Olympic Winter Games. He was also involved in the 1980 Olympic Winter Games where he was scouting for the United States’ “Miracle on Ice” team and introduced European methods of coaching after studying with legendary Soviet coach Anatoli Tarasov in the ‘70s.

“I remember watching the Soviet team play in a World Championship and I was fascinated," he told hockeybarn.com in an interview back in 2009. "I remember writing a letter to the coach Anatoli Tarasov and I didn't have any address I just put Moscow, USSR and months, months later I got a response from him."

He was an assistant coach of the men’s national team at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, where the United States earned silver on home ice in Salt Lake City, was coaching the men’s national team at other four World Championships (2000-2003) and the U20 national team in five World Junior Championships (1979-1982, 2003).

Vairo was also an assistant coach of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils in the ‘80s before he came to Europe. In Italy he coached HC Fassa and Milano Saima, which he led to the Italian championship in 1991. In the same year he was an assistant coach of the Italian national team that won the World Championship B-Pool in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia. Vairo was also coaching the Netherlands in the 1987 IIHF World Championship B-Pool and Dutch club team Tilburg Trappers.

Off the ice he has been involved in several projects of USA Hockey, was instrumental in creating the current player development system in the Unites States and in establishing the IIHF Hockey Development Camp as a former member of the IIHF Coaching Committee. In 2010 the IIHF honoured him with the Paul Loicq Award for his contribution to international hockey.

Vairo replaces Tom Pokel, who was coaching the team in the last two years but wasn’t able to stop the “elevator mode”. Since 2008 Italy has been relegated from the top division each time it played there, and has been promoted back every odd year in Division I play.

One of Vairo’s goals is to develop Italian players, put faith in Italian-trained players and coaches, and have a national team “made in Italy”. This label hasn’t been the full truth for all players in the past since the national team usually included one or the other North American-born player of Italian heritage who was naturalized after playing some years in the Italian league. But it is true for Vairo’s first roster for the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge tournament in Budapest, 7-9 November, where the Squadra Azzurra will face host Hungary, Korea and Poland.

“I'm happy with the composition of all the technical staff who firmly believes in the growth of [Italian] hockey,” commented Tommaso Teofoli of the Italian Ice Sports Federation. “I consider this a clear choice to value the young Italian players. At the same time the results should be verified over a long period. The beginning will not be easy, but I am sure that this is the right way to go.”

While Vairo has been hired as technical coordinator of hockey, he’s assuming the role as national team head coach only in the next tournament in Budapest, at least for now. A head coach for the remainder of the season has not officially been announced yet.

In the next tournament Vairo can trust on a large coaching staff. Italian-Canadian Ivano Zanatta, one of the most famous coaches of Italian heritage in the recent years in Europe, will return to his native country after coaching 12 years in Switzerland (HC Lugano) and the KHL (SKA St. Petersburg, Lev Prague). Zanatta spent a big part of his playing career in Italy and also played for the national team between 1989 and 1993.

The coaching staff will also include two Italian-born coaches with Stefan Mair, who is the head coach of Schwenninger Wild Wings in Germany’s top league DEL, and Roberto Scelfo, who is an assistant coach with reigning Italian champion Ritten Sport.

The event in Budapest will be the first test prior to the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Krakow where Italy will play against Kazakhstan, Japan, Ukraine, Hungary and host Poland. The best two teams of the event will be promoted to the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.


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