Three Japanese born players tried out for ECHL and IHL teams this season, but none of them made the cut. The economic downturn has also affected minor league pro hockey as several teams in the AHL and ECHL have folded or suspended operations for this season with probably more casualties in the lower leagues. This means that the pro hockey market is overflowing with capable players, and some players are having to play in lower leagues than their skills would normally warrant. Our Japanese challengers seem to have become casualties as well.
Former Nikko Ice Buck Kazuma Takahashi spent the past 2 seasons with the Utah Grizzlies, and he got an invite to the Stockton Thunder training camp after a successful FAT (Free Agent Training Camp). Despite being productive during he did not make the final cut and the official reason given was his old battle wound from 9 years ago, despite the fact that he played in the ECHL for the past 2 seasons. Luckily he was then invited to the SPHL tryouts, and was signed by the Louisiana IceGators along with Takaaki Ishikawa who just graduated from college and was due to play for the China Sharks of the Asia League before the team changed directions and became the China Dragon.
As for the Kawai brothers, defenceman Ryuichi and forward Takuma, who also went through a successful FAT and then were trying out for the IHL Bloomington PrairieThunder, they were both attractive players who played well during the tryout (their words) but they were cut because of lack of visas. Now, I thought teams were supposed to provide the visas once they signed the players, not the other way around. But the Kawai brothers are now back in Japan and are waiting for their US work permits to be issued. In the meantime, the expansion AL team Tohoku Free Blades have picked them up and they will definitely upgrade the upstart team. Their contracts with the Blades are supposed to be temporary until they head back to the States, but who knows what will happen.