While much attention is on rookies Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli in the hockey world, the 2023 NHL draft class boasts substantial depth. Among them is Canadian-Italian talent Adam Fantilli, initially projected to be chosen by the Anaheim Ducks, aligning with their youth-focused approach and potentially slotting as their third-line center. However, draft day brought a different outcome, as the Ducks opted for Swedish center Leo Carlsson. Fantilli eventually landed with the Columbus Blue Jackets as their third pick. Notably, this year saw another milestone for Italian hockey – goalie Damian Clara, born and raised in Italy, became the first Italian goalie selected in the NHL draft, going 60th overall to the Anaheim Ducks.
In a pick acquired through a trade with the Boston Bruins, the Ducks made a significant move by choosing the accomplished World Championship goaltender hailing from Brunico, Italy. This choice highlights the Ducks' dedication to recognizing and fostering talent on a global scale. Damian Clara now joins the league alongside fellow Italian-born players like Thomas Di Pauli, Luca Sbisa, and Victor Posa. While Clara is not the pioneer Italian player in the NHL, he is the NHL's first Italian goaltender.
Throughout his career in Italy, Clara has showcased an impressive display of skill that caught the eye of scouts, leading him to play for Färjestad BK in the Swedish J20 National League. His performance records reflect his dedication: a 17-17-0 record, a 2.79 goals-against average, and a .903 save percentage. Clara's talents also shone on the international stage, representing the Italian National Team. He was honored as the Best Goaltender at both the U18 D1B and U20 D1B tournaments, contributing significantly to Italy's bronze medal victories at the U18 and U20 World Championships.
With a towering height of 6 feet, 6 inches, Clara possesses the ability to effectively guard both the upper and lower portions of the net, underscoring his exceptional puck tracking skills. His commanding size, coupled with his positioning prowess, enables him to make crucial game-changing saves. However, while his innate talent is evident, securing a spot on the Ducks team won't be a walk in the park. Currently backed by established goalie John Gibson and his counterpart, Alex Stalock, Clara is set to return to Sweden for another season of hockey. He's been loaned to Brynas IF of the HockeyAllsvenskan league, where he can focus on refining his skating abilities. This effort aims to enhance his reaction time in breakaway scenarios and elevate his control over rebounds, all of which are vital elements for a goaltender's success.
Assistant Editor for America Domani, AJ Forrisi is a Brooklyn-based writer and photographer. His work focuses on food, travel, sports, landscapes, and urban scenes. You can find him on Instagram @aj.photo.works.