By Rob Massey –
Just over two years ago, Guelph’s Giordano Finoro had a decision to make.
He was playing for the University of Guelph Gryphons in Ontario university men’s hockey, but the resumption of the 2021-22 season following the usual break for exams and Christmas was going to be delayed due to COVID. This was after a late start of the season – the Gryphons had played seven games before the holiday break – and the entire 2020-21 season had been cancelled due to the pandemic.
Finoro and the other Gryphons had played a total of seven games in a year and a half and there was talk at the time that the remainder of the 2021-22 season might be cancelled too. With that uncertainty Finoro decided he had to go overseas to continue playing his chosen sport.
“It was definitely a very difficult decision,” he said during a virtual conversation. “On one hand, I did feel like I was abandoning the team, abandoning the young guys coming up because as one of the leaders on the Guelph team, I felt that it was a responsibility for myself to take the younger kids under your wing and kind of show them the ropes and be a role model for them.
“I was watching the world juniors and they were talking about certain players from the Finns, from the Czechs, the Swedes and they were saying how many games they had played. There were 14 games played, 20 games played over in the leagues because generally those young kids are playing up in the pro leagues. I thought to myself that all these kids were getting development still. At the university we’re not playing any games,” he continued. “So I sat down with my parents and I said that I didn’t believe that I was done with hockey and I felt that if I was taking two years off of hockey, that would really set me back with my goals and what I wanted to take out of hockey.”
That decision made, Finoro joined Asiago HC, then playing in the Alps Hockey League. Including the playoffs, he had 11 goals and eight assists in 22 games.
The team based in Asiago, a mountain city in northern Italy, had already been accepted into the ICE Hockey League of Austria for the 2022-23 season and his production continued as he had 29 goals and 28 assists in 50 regular-season and playoff games.
Teams in the ICE league are allowed to use more import players than the teams in the Alps league can and that creates an uptick in play.
“The play of the players and the ability,” Finoro answered when asked the difference between the two leagues. “It was a lot faster (in the ICE league). The decision-making had to be a second quicker. You do have more imports and they are better imports. They’re drawing more from guys coming out of the AHL from back home, the ECHL and guys who have been over here for a while who have played in the top leagues in Finland. The calibre of hockey increased dramatically.
“The depth of the teams wasn’t as strong as the depth is in this league. Generally the teams in the Alps league would have one to two very good lines and the play kind of falls off in the third and fourth lines. Up in the ICE league, you have three to four very good lines playing every night.”
While Finoro was born in Guelph – he turns 26 in May – he’s now considered a non- import as he’s a dual citizen of Italy and Canada. And now that he’s played for more than 16 months with Asiago, there are more benefits of being considered an Italian.
“I am officially eligible for the Italian national team and I have been put on the roster as of now,” he said.
But is there a chance of playing for Italy in the six-team world championship Division One, Group A tournament in Bolzano, Italy, at the end of April? Winner of that
tournament moves up into the 16-team world championship tournament that includes Canada and the other hockey superpowers for 2025.
“Definitely,” Finoro said. “They have three tournaments throughout the year to watch you and evaluate you if you can come to the camp. I went to the first one in November. We went to Budapest. There was one in December, but my team didn’t send any players as we had games very close to the beginning of the tournament and the end of the tournament, so they didn’t want to overwork us.
“I’ll be attending the one in February and I have been asked to go to the world championship tryouts for the national team in April.”
As for the hockey in the ICE league, it’s quite a bit different from what Finoro had played in Canada.
“It’s a lot more possession style game. I’m in the top Austrian league right now, the ICE Hockey League, and it’s one of the more physical leagues due to the number of imports. Because we do have a lot of North Americans coming over here, we’re kind of bringing that North American style of game to a bigger ice surface. It’s very fast because of the bigger ice surface. If you’re not a strong skater, it can definitely be shown on the ice. If you watch the Finns, the Swedes, the Russians, you can kind of see that more of possession-style game – slowing the game down, holding it.”
Finoro, though, had been used to playing home games with the Gryphons on the Olympic-sized ice surface at the Gryphon Centre.
“That was definitely an advantage for me coming over here, having already played on the big ice,” he said. “It was an easier transition. I wouldn’t say it was exactly smooth. The pace of play was a little bit higher and adjusting to fellow imports over here and the Italian players, there are some very good players that are over here. The increase in play and the increase in skill was a little bit of an adjustment, but being able to play on the big ice before I came over here was definitely an advantage.”
Asiago is one of three teams in the 13-team ICE league that are located in Italy. There is also a team in Hungary and another one in Slovenia while the other eight are in Austria.
As beautiful as the city of Asiago is, seemingly surrounded by mountains on every side, Finoro’s personal goals might take him away from there.
“The city, the team are absolutely amazing, but I do have higher aspirations for myself in order to move on and play at the highest league level possible,” he said. “Looking back at my rap sheet of hockey teams (junior B, major junior and university hockey before going overseas), I continuously improve over the years and find an opportunity in a higher league and I continuously move up and up and up. The ICE league is a very good league over in Europe and it’s a very tough league to get into, but with success will open doors for the top leagues in Europe. That’s including Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, (Czechia). My aspiration is to move up into those leagues and to play with the best players in the world.”
However, playing overseas means some sacrifices, especially in your personal life.
“I do want to come home and see family. Coming from a big Italian family, that is probably the hardest part of being over here – missing all the family get-togethers,”
Finoro said. “I am pursuing my dream and I would never take that away from myself, but that is definitely the hardest part – missing all the time and the memories with my family and my friends.”