Former Surrey Eagle Anthony Bardaro is back in B.C. after his European pro hockey season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. (Contributed photo)

Former Surrey Eagle Anthony Bardaro is back in B.C. after his European pro hockey season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. (Contributed photo)

Former Surrey Eagle home from ‘quiet, empty’ Italy after hockey season cancelled

Delta-born Anthony Bardaro has spent last three seasons playing professionally in Europe

Anthony Bardaro is nearing the end of his 14-day quarantine, and while a two-week stretch of staying home might not be onerous for some, he is happy the end is in sight – even if a general period of self-isolation is still in effect countrywide.

And while the idea of going outside – even for a quick trip to the store – is a welcome one, where the 27-year-old Delta-born former Surrey Eagle would rather still be, under normal circumstances, is in northern Italy finishing up the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga playoffs with his Bolzano HC teammates.

That playoff run came to an abrupt halt a few weeks ago, however, as the COVID-19 outbreak spread throughout the world, hitting Italy especially hard; though the United States now has the most total cases of the virus, Italy tops the world in virus-related deaths, with more than 12,000.

Bolzano HC was up 3-0 in its first-round best-of-seven playoff series when the league suspended play.

Bardaro and his wife, Chelsea, returned home to the Vancouver-area earlier this month, leaving Italy during its lock-down period.

“I’m currently on day 10 (of quarantine), and it is not easy,” he told Peace Arch News Thursday. “I’m a very active person so I am definitely going a bit stir-crazy. However, we are all in this together and I am trying to be as responsible as I can to play my part in this strange time.

“The first day or two, it was nice to relax and not have anything to do, but as most people know, that gets old fast.”

• READ ALSO: Former Surrey Eagle ‘proud’ to represent Italy at world championships

• READ ALSO: BC Hockey cancels all provincial championships due to COVID-19 outbreak

Bardaro played with the Surrey Eagles in 2008-09 before embarking on a four-year career in the Western Hockey League, followed by four years with the UBC Thunderbirds, but since 2017 has played professionally in Italy.

He spent his first two seasons with Asiago HC in the Alps Hockey League, before moving to Bolzano, which plays in the top Austrian league, this season. In 48 games with Bolzano, the centre scored 20 goals and added 19 assists.

Last spring, Bardaro – whose father and grandparents on both sides of the family have Italian roots – suited up for Italy at World Hockey Championships.

Considering his family ties to the country, as well as having spent the last three hockey seasons there, Bardaro said he and his wife have come to consider Italy “our home away from home.”

“We are getting quite comfortable with the language and we have met countless amazing people,” he said.

It’s that love of his adopted country, moreso than the loss of any hockey games, that has made the current plight in Italy tough for him to see, he said.

“The season shutting down was extremely difficult at first… we had a strong team, and (at the end of the season) we’d won 10 straight, which made us really believe we had a chance of bringing a championship back to Bolzano,” he explained.

“However, there were much more important things than the game of hockey going on… the league made the right decision to shut down.”

As the entire country went into lock-down mode, Bardaro said “people were afraid and a little panicked,” though he commended citizens for how quickly they followed the instruction of government to stay home and self-isolate.

The scene in Bolzano was, understandably, quiet, he added.

“The strangest part I would say was how quiet and empty Bolzano, along with other big cities in Italy, got,” he explained.

“We are so used to the squares being packed with people and culture all day, every day, it was quite strange to see everything empty, and quiet.”

Bardaro and his wife lived in an apartment complex with a handful of teammates, which – prior to everyone leaving for their home countries – made lockdown more bearable, he said.

“(We) were able to sit outside in the sun and go through it all together.”

Getting home to B.C. was a relatively smooth process, he said. The team set up a bus to take import players and their families to the airport in Munich, Germany, and from there, Bardaro and his wife flew to Vancouver.

“We were stopped at the Austrian and German borders, but nothing serious,” he said. “We didn’t have much trouble.”

Bardaro is hopeful that when it’s time to hit the ice again for a new hockey season, the COVID-19 situation will have settled down and he’ll be able to return to Bolzano to play.

“Returning… would be a welcome opportunity for my wife and I,” he said, adding, however, that with the hockey world being as unpredictable as it is at the best of times, he would “go where the opportunities lie.”

Bardaro isn’t the only pro hockey player with ties to the Semiahmoo Peninsula who was forced to come home early from their European leagues. Former Eagles T.J. Mulock and Andrew Kozek played this past season in the German and Austrian leagues, respectively, while South Surrey native Colton Gillies – a former first-round pick of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild – plays for Latvia-based Riga Dynamo in the KHL.

The KHL was among the last pro sports leagues to shut down, only officially cancelling play last week.

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