Penned no longer, Ubriaco branches out to work with Italian, deaf teams

January 10, 1991|By Nestor Aparicio | Nestor Aparicio,Evening Sun Staff

Gene Ubriaco probably would laugh at the notion that he is a Renaissance man of the hockey world, but the bad fortune of being fired in Pittsburgh 13 months ago has opened up many other opportunities never afforded him in his 11 years of coaching.

While he remains on the Penguins' payroll for the next nine months -- a contract that pays him $150,000 per year -- Ubriaco has received many offers outside of the NHL and professional hockey in North America, and the work is sure to keep him busy for the next 15 months.

Later this month he will head to Italy to begin preparing the Italian National team for the World Games to be played in late March in Yugoslavia.

"We have about 40 players -- several of them were born in Canada but have parents who were born in Italy and have been there for three years to get citizenship -- that we're splitting into two teams to try and make a run at the Olympics in 1992," said Ubriaco, who coached the Skipjacks for seven seasons. "It's interesting for me because international hockey and the Olympics are the only levels of the game I've never worked in before."

The Italian team is one of six in the B Pool of the draw. Only three will qualify to play in the Olympics next year.

"We have some quality players and I think there is real potential there to get to the Olympics and maybe surprise some people," said Ubriaco, who is of Italian descent but was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.

Ubriaco, 53, said his goalie is expected to be former Skipjack and Penguin Roberto Romano.

After he returns from Europe late this month, Ubriaco will head to Colorado Springs, Colo., to prepare the U.S. hockey entry into the World Winter Games for the Deaf to be played in Banff, Alberta, during the first week of March.

Working for the American Hearing Impaired Association along with former Blackhawk great Stan Mikita for 17 years, Ubriaco is finally without a winter coaching job, which in past years has limited his involvement to just a few weeks of summer camps.

"It's really a special event, watching these guys play without being able to hear," said Ubriaco.

Although he admits that his sign language capabilities are minimal -- he once accidentally made an obscene gesture during a practice and still takes some good-natured kidding from the players -- he feels he does get the most from the players.

"They only get together as a team once or twice a year, but they really work well together," Ubriaco said. "Most of them play lower-level collegiate hockey or provincial Junior A, which is high-quality hockey. We're not talking about a bunch of deaf kids who just play hockey for a hobby. They are skilled and they want to win."

In between his dual roles as a head coach, Ubriaco, who still lives in Towson, has been doing color commentary for the Skipjacks along with broadcaster Kenny Albert at many of the team's home games.

"I once did some broadcasting in Sault, but this has really been a fun way to watch the AHL players develop," said Ubriaco. "Kenny called me and asked me to do it and I was going to be coming to the games anyway. My talent also comes cheap."

It has been rumored since the first week of December -- when Tampa Bay and Phil Esposito were awarded an expansion NHL franchise -- that Ubriaco may join his former partner Tony Esposito as a key figure, possibly the head coach, in the new organization.

Ubriaco said he would love the opportunity to work in the NHL again, but the Espositos won't be doing any hiring until June of 1992, when the team will draft its first players to begin play in October of that year.

"Any chance there is way down the line," Ubriaco said. "My first priorities now are the deaf team, the Italian team and doing well in the Olympics."

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