February 14, 2006
Breadmaker sure can cut itItalian winger brings the most dough to the Italian men's hockey team
By ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun
TURIN, Italy -- He might not be Italy's fastest skater or own the team's hardest shot but ask Lucio Topatigh what he does best and the 41-year-old winger flashes a gold- medal smile.
"I make special bread," beamed the proud owner and operator of Topatigh's Bakery in his tiny hometown of Gallio.
"A few guys on my (club) team (in nearby Asiago) take the extra long trip to my place because I've got the extra special bread."
In fact, as the joke goes, the 41-year-old baker may be the only man in Olympic hockey history to make more dough than the members of Team Canada, whom he'll face tomorrow in his third Olympics.
"Having the Olympics at my home is pretty emotional for me," said Topatigh, a relatively recent addition to the squad coached by former Ottawa Gee-Gees coach Mickey Goulet.
"It came as a bit of a surprise because I wasn't playing on the national team for two years. It's pretty special."
Not as special as his bread, or his heart, says Goulet, who didn't have Topatigh rated as an Olympic prospect the last two years.
"Then, all of a sudden, he stepped up and made the team," said Goulet, who communicates with his players in English.
"I said, 'A 40-year-old can't play five games in seven days -- it's impossible.' But every time I went to see him play ... and whether on the road or at home, he played the same way -- with heart."
Married and a father of two, Topatigh is twice as old as teammate Rene Baur, making the bald-headed sniper an easy target for geriatric jokes.
"There are a couple other guys hovering around 40, so we stick together," laughed Topatigh, leaning heavily on the translating skills of captain Joe Busillo.
Still playing for HC Asiago of the Italian League, in which he's scored more than 250 goals over 17 seasons, Topatigh wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to fire up the bakery oven. It is there he often catches himself staring at his prized possession -- a photo of him and Wayne Gretzky taken at the Nagano Games, which hangs proudly for customers to see. Beside it sits a handful of framed prints, including one with Jaromir Jagr, another with Mark Messier and a group shot with longtime national team pals.
"The great thing is, he isn't in awe," said teammate Tony Tuzzolino, a former NHLer.
"There's no problem getting photos with guys you idolize or see on TV in the Athletes' Village. Once you do that in the stadium -- or bring a camera onto the bench -- it's a problem."
Topatigh agrees, which is why he will likely angle for another framed memento after his final brush with greatness.
"Everyone in Italy seems to be set on soccer," said Topatigh, cringing. "I hope we'll come out of the Olympics gaining more fans."
And maybe a few more visitors for his special bread.