It’s amazing that this all East European (except for Japan) tournament is being held in Japan at all. I wonder what went down in the host city nomination and the subsequent voting process.
The tournament will run from 13-19 April at Tsukisamu Arena in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan and the other participating teams are Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, and Hungary.
This is Japan’s best chance to win the dvision and qualify for the top group, playing in front of the home crowd, and having ECHL regulars G Fukufuji (unimpressive .891 save percentage this season, but he’s on one of the worst teams in the league so all goalies at Bakersfield are sporting a sub-.900 mark after posting better numbers in previous seasons) and F Nishiwaki (14+16=30 pts in 54 games so far, but was one of the leading goal scorers in the AL the two previous seasons) on the national team with their ECHL clubs slated to miss the playoffs. ECHL season runs to the first week of April, so these two will be able to join the national team for this Div I tournament at home that’ll run from 13-19 April. Oji goalie Haruna has been having a fantastic AL playoffs, posting 1.88 GAA and .924 save % so far in 8 games, and he’s had some success in international tournies if my memory’s correct. And Seibu’s Kikuchi, who is always solid in Asia, is also available, so Japan should be solid in goal, hopefully the porous defense from last year’s tournament has somehow been improved, but I don’t see how.
Other interesting candidates remaining on the Japan team selection squad (down to 30 now, but there will be further cuts before the start of the tournament to get down to regulation size) are D Okubo playing for High1 of the Korean entry to the AL, he totally drove their offense this past season, and led AL defensemen in assists and points. University kids D Haga of university champs Toyo University (who scored a hat trick in the university championship finals), D Yanatori of finalist Meiji Univ., and F Kuji of Waseda University are also included in the selection camp. Other players are the usual suspects from AL teams including naturalized Canadian born veteran players (all Japanese descent Nikkeis) D Aaron Keller (Oji), F Ryan Kiyoshi Fujita (Seibu), and F Darcy Mitani (Cranes).
Interestingly, the national team will play two warm up games again Amur Khavarovsk (the B team, I assume). 1 April at Tomakomai Hakucho Arena, and 3 April at Sapporo Tsukisamu Areana, both games start at 19:00.