Gene Ubriaco, former coach of the Baltimore Skipjacks and Pittsburgh Penguins, is headed for the 1992 Olympic Games.
Ubriaco, with the permission of the Penguins, is the head coach of Italian Olympic team, which recently won the World B Hockey Championships in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia. The Italians, composed mostly of nativesons, defeated France, Norway (coached by new San Jose Sharks coach George Kingston), Austria, the Netherlands, Poland, Japan and Yugoslavia.
"This is one of the most amazing and exciting things that has ever happened to me," said Ubriaco. "I never thought I'd get to the Olympics, the ultimate in sports, but here I am."
The Italians, who have moved into eighth place in the world and will be in the A Division in the Olympics in February in Albertville, France, went 7-0 during the tournament and outscored the opposition, 49-10.
"We were sure we could qualify," said Ubriaco, who returned from Europe last weekend. "But winning the gold medal was just great, quite an accomplishment. Every game was like the seventh game of the playoffs over here. We had to play seven games in 10 days, and it was a lot of pressure. But I have some great players, like center Gates Orlando, who played for Rochester, and goalie David Delfino. They did the job for me.
"It's been an extremely busy four months for me. First I had the United States team in the Deaf Olympics, and we won a silver medal in that. We beat Russia, tied Canada, beat Canada and then lost to Russia, 4-2.
"I had to leave before the last game with Russia because I had to be in Italy with my other team. I hated to leave, really felt badly about it, but I had to go. Russia and the U.S. finished tied for first, but the Russians won the gold medal because of a differential of one goal.
"It was a great feat for the U.S. We have only 70 deaf players to choose from, and Canada and Russia have hundreds of players and many leagues made up of deaf players. We got some great efforts from a lot of people."
Ubriaco said he will bring his Italian Olympians to North America for training camp this summer.
"We're looking into possible sites now," he said. "We are looking at the Toronto area, which has a large Italian population, and at other areas. We're going to have a tryout camp in July for #F Italian-born players living over here, and we'll hold our full training camp in August.
"Being over here will give us a chance to showcase our team and also give us an opportunity to play against top teams over here. This should toughen us up for the Olympics, where we'll play against the best in the world. We have a pre-Olympic tournament in Albertville in December, and then we'll hold our pre-Olympic training camp beginning Jan. 15."
Ubriaco said that moving into the A Division is a great step for Italian hockey, which will be the host country for the 1994 World Championships.