TURIN, Italy - Locals are still trying to figure it out: Why did 10,200 fans show up for an exhibition hockey match Tuesday between Italy and a Canadian B team when less than half that number routinely attend games featuring the city's legendary soccer club, Juventus.
Italian league hockey games in Turin attract an average of 500 fans.
"Just maybe Turin is getting into the Olympic spirit," Turin daily La Stampa said.
Or maybe it was the $7.20 tickets that produced the second-largest crowd for a hockey game in Italy, following the 10,500 that watched the 1991 Italian league final between Milan and Bolzano.
"It was fantastic," said Jukka Pekka Vuorinen, the organizing committee's hockey competition manager.
Canada won 2-1, though the highlight of the night was the entrance at the 5:08 mark of the first period of 40-year-old Lucio Topatigh, making his return to Italy's team after more than a three-year absence.
A high-scoring right wing with a reputation as an instigator, Topatigh temporarily has suspended his work in a bakery - leaving the work to his sister, Antonella - while he attempts to make coach Mickey Goulet's roster.
The match was designed to mark the opening of the new Palasport arena at full capacity, following a test tournament last month, when only half the seats had been put in.
NO SKIERS: Fierce protests against a high-speed rail link are having a direct effect on business in the Alpine zone for the Turin Games.
Businesses and hotels in the Alpine hub of Sestriere and the snowboarding venue of Bardonecchia felt an estimated drop of 60 percent to 70 percent in tourism over the skiing season's first holiday weekend.
Most Italians enjoyed a four-day weekend Dec. 8-11 for the Immaculate Conception.
Environmentalists and residents have been protesting for weeks against drilling a tunnel in the Susa Valley for the rail line. Lately, they have stopped traffic on the main highway leading from Turin to Bardonecchia and Sestriere.
"We have to work to bring about normalcy," said Turin mayor Sergio Chiamparino. "This is in the interest of the Olympics and in the interest of tourism, and also in the interest of the realization of this project, which for us is an essential project."
Shop owners and hotel owners told tales of tourists arriving after hours of waiting for the road to reopen.
"I prefer not to comment on the present and look forward," Bardonecchia mayor Francesco Avato told the Turin newspaper La Stampa, adding he hopes the situation improves for the upcoming holiday period.
NO VILLAGE: Don't count on finding Bode Miller or Daron Rahlves in the Olympic Village during the Turin Games.
The two American skiers plan to stay in the same motor home and rockstar bus during the Games that they travel around in on the World Cup circuit.
"The village is not that great up there, I don't think," Miller said of the village in Sestriere, where Alpine skiing will be held.
In fact, construction on the Sestriere village appears to be behind schedule. The main athletes village is in Turin, with Alpine hubs in Sestriere and Bardonecchia.
"It's the secondary village. I'll have the motor home there for sure," Miller said.
Rahlves said he would bring his rockstar bus, which is replete with gym and plasma TV.
FIVE-RING FLAGS: A general lack of interest in the Turin Games is a concern throughout Italy, so the government is turning to the nation's schoolchildren to drum up support.
Starting Jan. 31, the Olympic flag will be hung at every school in Italy.
"The timing is very symbolic, we will be approaching the 10-days-to-go mark," said education undersecretary Maria Grazia Siliquini.
The Turin Games begin Feb. 10.
"The five-ringed flag will bring the Olympics to the attention of students and other citizens alike," Grazia Siliquini said. "We also want students to understand what Olympic values mean."
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