Ex-Hitmen winger enjoys Italian flavour

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:14 PM ET

The Sun’s Wes Gilbertson catches up with a few former Calgary pucksters across the pond in our six-part series

PART 3: ITALY

For most hockey players, pasta is pre-game staple.

So former Calgary Hitmen sparkplug Jordan Krestanovich must have been salivating when he received an offer to continue his hockey career in Italy's Serie A, right?

Uhhh ...

"The funny thing is, I'm not a big pasta fan," Krestanovich said. "I mean, the pasta here is excellent -- don't get me wrong -- but I've never been a big pasta guy. Having it here in Italy, it's definitely a lot better, but I've never been a big pasta fan my whole life."

The idea of Italians serving up mouth-watering pasta dishes hardly seems far-fetched. That the country is also home to a high-calibre hockey league is slightly more surprising.

Krestanovich, the SG Cortina star whose resume includes 20 outings with the Colorado Avalanche, is one of several former NHLers now earning their wages in Italy, a group that also includes longtime Oilers forward Rem Murray and former Flames grinder Dwayne Hay.

Calgary-born backstop Juliano Pagliero and Strathmore sharpshooter Taggart Desmet, who both had successful stints in the U.S. collegiate ranks, are also suiting up in Serie A.

"You don't really think about Italy when you think about hockey but, overall, it is good hockey over here," said Krestanovich. "It's a good league. The top two lines in this league are as good as the East Coast -- if not, the top-end guys are better probably. We play only three lines here, and the third line is all Italian players. Compared to the ECHL or whatever back home, that's the difference.

"But I knew it was a good league. I knew, from when I was here before, that it's a bigger ice, so for myself, my skating, it complements me."

Krestanovich's comparisons should hold some weight. The 28-year-old forward from Surrey, B.C., has made pro hockey stops in nine cities spread across five leagues and four countries.

Now in his second stint in Italy, there's one on-ice moment that still haunts him.

Krestanovich was in his first of three full seasons with the Hitmen in 1998-99, when the team won a WHL title but had their hearts broken at the Memorial Cup, losing to the Ottawa 67's in overtime in the final game.

While defenceman Brad Stuart (Detroit Red Wings) and checking centre Jerred Smithson (Nashville Predators) are the only members of that squad spending this season in NHL, many of their former Hitmen teammates are still getting paid to play.

High-scoring forwards Brad Moran and Kris Beech are now skating in Sweden's Elitserien, while sniper Pavel Brendl and netminder Alexander Fomichev are toiling in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.

Sean McAslan and Rod Sarich are suiting up for bitter rivals in the British Elite League, Matt Kinch is patrolling the back-end in Germany's second-tier and Wade Davis won a championship last season in the Netherlands.

Throw in steady blueliner Kenton Smith, who faces off against Krestanovich as a member of the HC Valpellice Bulldogs, and that's half of the Hitmen regulars still skating in the pro ranks more than a decade after their near-miss at the Memorial Cup.

"The funny thing about after that game was I was so young, I just figured we would be right back in the same spot the next season and win it," Krestanovich said. "Looking back at my hockey memories, that is one I will never forget, and I realize opportunities like that don't come around very often.

"It's definitely disappointing looking back that we couldn't have won that game. Not very many people can say they have won a Memorial Cup. The bottom line is you can't take things for granted because you never know if you will get another shot at it."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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