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    2008-09 AL Season Review

    Posted by simon c on 2009 April 9日 Thursday

    I’m currently lacking both the brain cells and the time to do this properly, so the 2008-09 Asia League Ice Hockey season will be reviewed in bullet point style.

    • Nippon Paper Cranes reign supreme again! Asia League power house returns to the top after fighting through 3 rounds of playoffs, and going the full 7 in both the semi and finals. The Cranes last won the trophy 2 seasons ago, so it was a short absence from the top.
    • Seibu Prince Rabbits fold. The tin foil hat says that this is part of Seibu Group’s attempt to rid of Tsutsumi colours (including the baseball team’s uniform colour, literally). There’s hope of the team being resurrected as an independent pro club team as seen in an earlier post on this blog.
    • Anyang Halla is back, but High1 falls back. Anyang Halla added quality imports, got its sniper Song Dong-Hwan back from 2 years of military service (he didn’t miss a beat, being 4th in league scoring 3 seasons ago as well as this past season), and rookies who immediately contributed by finishing top 10 in scoring (Kim Ki-Sung and Park Woo-Sang who were just from universities drafted in the offseason). High1 was 2nd in the 2007-08 regular season, but fell down to 5th place and immediately got swept in the first round play in against the Cranes. 1st to 4th this year was a complete toss up, but then there was a big gap to High1 in 4th. High1 will be looking to climb back up to the top half of the table next season, and especially not to finish the season below their Korean rivals Halla.
    • The bottom of the table was occupied by the usual suspects, the Nikko Ice Bucks and the Chinese entry, the China Sharks. But things were upside down this past season with the Sharks crawling out of the basement thanks in large part to Wade Flaherty’s Herculian efforts (he won the Best Goalie Award) and kicked the troubled Bucks down into the basement. 
    • Since there were no double digit blowouts like in previous seasons when teams could run up the score on Chinese teams, finally for the first time, stats in the Asia League is actually quite credible (no need to sift through strength of schedule, opponents, and run a query). So let’s take a look at the scoring board:
    • 0809_al_scoring
    • High powered offence of Halla has 5  players ranked in the top 11, including a rookie in Kim Ki-Sung, and sniper Song Dong-Hwan who returned to the league after missing the last 2 seasons due to mandatory military service for all Korean adult males (except big time celebrities and sports figures it seems, if they can win exemptions or wiggle their way out). There are many of the usual suspects on the list including Suzuki and Prpic of Seibu, but who knows what their future holds for now. And Chris Yule showed his former team that he was still an offensive force. 
    • Additionally, defenceman Jon Awe (AHL 12+17=29) finished on top of scoring for defencemen ahead of Asia League and national team vet Aaron Keller (OJI 5+19=24) and AL sophomore Richard Rochefort (SPR 7+17=24), and Halla’s other import Brad Fast (7+27 = 34) ranked high in league scoring, prompting an unprecedented move by an AL team when Anyang Halla re-signed all their imports to multi-year deals with scoring leader Brock Radunski signing a 3-year contract and the others to 2-years.
    • This was in part prompted by Halla’s awesome offence as they became the first non-Japanese team to win the regular season (and were one win away from becoming the first non-Japanese team in the playoff finals). The awesome Halla offence racked up 150 goals in 36 games for a very impressive 4.17 G/G with and converted astonishing 38% of their power play chances for 54 goals. I’m sure Halla is glad to have their offence intact for next season, as they were only a win away from reaching the finals.
    • While all other teams allowed 95 goals or more, the finally nicknamed Oji Eagles impressively only let in 77 goals, and were also 2nd in the league in both the power play and the penalty kill.
    • Finally, since Deanna brought her big camera with her to game 7 of the finals, we have some good pictures of the final game for the Seibu Prince Rabbits.

    (Photos courtesy of Deanna)

    Cranes celebrate first goal of the game by Darcy Mitani.

    186-goalscored

    Seibu Prince Rabbits and Japan national team captain Takahito Suzuki who almost singlehandedly won the championship for Seibu, scoring the game winner with 45 seconds left in game 6, then both of Seibu’s goals in game 7.

    037-suzuki1

    Cranes goalie Hisashi Ishikawa, the playoff MVP, who unbelievably stopped 54 of 56 shots for the game 7 victory.

    284-ishikawa

    Cranes with the Asia League trophy, congratulations!! (and let’s hope there are at least 7 teams in the league again next season..)

    460-trophy

    more photos after this break:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, opinion, statistics, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Asia League playoffs update

    Posted by simon c on 2009 March 7日 Saturday

    One semifinals ended in a sweep as the Seibu Prince Rabbits fought tooth and nails to win over the Oji Eagles in 4 straight (though all were 1-2 goal games that could’ve gone either way). The other semifinal is going the distance in a seesaw battle with top seed Anyang Halla and Nippon Paper Cranes exchanging wins each other game (Halla seems to have recovered nicely from the 0-9 drubbing in game 4). (Playoff bracket, playoff gamesheets) Joe Prpic was critical to many of the Seibu goals, and the Prpic-Fujita veteran powerplay unit was in top gear.

    The rubber match between Halla and the Cranes goes Saturday night to decide who will get to play the well rested Bunnies on their swan song.

    Some videos and photos from the Seibu – Oji games 1 and 2 that I went to see in Higashifushimi, Tokyo.

    Signed thank you sweaters of long time Seibu/Kokudo workhorse stars Ryan Kiyoshi Fujita, Joel Prpic, and Takahito Suzuki.

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    sp2241252

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    More photos and videos after this break:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Japanese hockey wrap

    Posted by simon c on 2009 February 20日 Friday

    The best-of-3 play-in round between 4th place Nippon Paper Cranes and High1 finished in a blowout for the Cranes, sweeping the series with 5-2 and 8-4 wins. Now the semifinals pits the rested Anyang Halla (the first non-Japanese team to top the regular season standings) against the battle worn Cranes, and soon to fold Seibu Prince Rabbits against the Oji Eagles. They both should be dandy series, and with the balanced schedule this past season, Halla’s record is for real and I’m looking for them progressing to the finals! (And for Seibu to have its last hurrah in addition to them winning the 2009 All Japan Championship in an exciting 6-5 final against the Cranes.) 

    In other Japanese hockey news, with the Seibu group officially pulling the plug on its hockey team, there will be a memorial alumni game to be held at the DyDo Drinco Arena in Higashifushimi, Tokyo, on 28 March. The match should feature Kokudo and Seibu Railway legends such as the Wakabayashi brothers, Herb and Mel.

    And in Harbin 2009 Universiade news, Japan won 3-2 over China, with Eri Kiribuchi notching her first win turning aside 26 of 28 shots in a much better performance from the previous day’s game where she allowed 4 goals on 23 shots against Finland in a shutout loss. Without playing any official games this season, she seems to have secured the starter’s position on Team Japan, way to go Eri! The men were lucklustre in their 1-4 loss to Slovakia on their opening game of the tournament.

    And finally, the newly formed Tohoku Free Blades is going to ice a team for the first time in the next few weeks. First an exhibition match (three 15 minute periods) against the Nikko IceBucks of the Asia League on the Bucks’ fan appreciation day on 11am 28 February at the Nikko Kirifuri Arena. This event will cost 1000 yen and it will be a good measure to see if the team can be competitive in the Asia League. The Blades will also be making an appearance (normal rules) against western Japan amateur powerhouse Surpass Kagawa at 8pm 6 March in Miki City, Kagawa Surpass Sports Center Arena. Let’s hope this helps Blades pass the muster to enter the Asia League, as the uncertain future of Seibu means that a new Japanese team in the league will be a much needed infusion.

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, International, Japan, JIHF, opinion, statistics, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    2008 CL season review and playoff preview

    Posted by simon c on 2008 October 16日 Thursday

    The Central League concluded their 2008 regular season recently and is gearing up for its Climax Series playoffs which will start this Saturday the 18th as Hanshin hosts Chunichi for the best of 3 series at their home away from home, the Kyocera Dome Osaka, because their venerable Koshien Stadium is undergoing renovations that could not have been rescheduled. What, did the Koshien brass think that the Tigers were not going to host any postseason games this year?

    Anyways, the Pacific League has completed the first round of its playoffs with the 3rd place Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters earning a clean 2 game sweep over the 2008 miracle team, the Orix Buffaloes, in the very same Osaka Dome. The pitching and defence minded Fighters are built for the postseason where run scoring is at a premium. The Fighters won game 1 behind a strong 1 run (unearned) 14K complete game performance in the 4-1 win by their dominant ace, Yu Darvish. The Buffs managed 9 hits in the game, but 5 of them were of the infield variety. Game 2 featured a strong performance by starter Shugo Fujii and the bats came alive for an easy 7-2 win. Through the quirk of scheduling (probably to maximize weekend dates) the Fighters get to throw Darvish out there in one of the first two games of the PL final against the Saitama Seibu Lions which starts tomorrow, Friday the 17th, and possibly have him pitch the deciding game 6 on the 23rd if necessary. That’ll be a tough hurdle for the Lions to clear, despite starting the best of 7 series off with a 1-0 advantage and playing all games at home.

    Back to the CL for the regular season recap and playoff preview.

    1. Yomiuri Giants

    84-57-3 (.596)

    RS-RA: 631-532

    The all star team that was supposed to win the CL pennant did manage to achieve the feat in the waning days of the season, through a combination of a dominating second half of the season and the monumental Hanshin collapse (more on that later). Signing highly prized free agents Alex Ramirez (144GP 600PA 319/373/617 with 45 HR 125RBI), Seth Greisinger (31GS 206IP 3.06ERA 17-9), and Marc Kroon (61G 61IP 2.21ERA 41SV) from their poorer CL cousins turned out to be an absolute bonanza as Kroon had no injury problems and Rami-chan’s 2007 revival wasn’t a fluke. Well, these were gambles that the richest NPB club could afford to take. The Giants have an import conundrum as Lee Seung-Yeop came on hot coming back from the Olympic where he played hero with 7HR and 18RBI in September (including homering in 3 straight at bats against the lowly BayStars). But their pitcher from downunder Adrian Burnside had a decent season as well when given the opportunity as he had 3.48ERA in 75IP. Teams are allowed to carry 4 imports on the active roster, and the Giants will host the winner of the Hanshin-Chunichi series starting on the 22nd.

    After it was all said and done, Michihiro Ogasawara (310/381/573 with 36HR) and catcher Shinnosuke Abe (271/350/502) had their usual productive seasons, and while Tetsuya Utsumi (184.1IP 2.73ERA) had yet another strong season and MLB bound Koji Uehara had a strong second half to make his record a respectable 3.81ERA in 89.2IP after a disasterous start to the season, Hisanori Takahashi returned to his pre-2007 form with 4.13ERA in 122IP and Hiroshi Kisanuki had similar numbers with 4.14ERA in 74IP. The Giants should prove to be a formidable opponent for either winner of the first round, as the team will be right at home in the homer-happy Tokyo Dome.

    2. Hanshin Tigers

    82-59-3 (.582)

    RS-RA: 578 – 521

    The Tigers held the Central League until the 141st game of the 144 game regular season, at one point holding a 13 game lead over the Giants in the summer, but allowed Yomiuri to win the league in the 143rd game of the year completing the greatest choke of Central League history (previous record was the 1996 Giants overcoming a 11.5 game deficit to take the league crown). The Hanshin batters Kanemoto, Akahoshi, and Arai held the top 3 spots in CL OBP rankings with Toritani in 8th at the beginning of summer. But at the end of the season only Akahoshi and Kanemoto kept their spots in the top 10 with 3rd and 6th respectively, Arai and Toritani had just fallen out of the top 10, but Kentaro Sekimoto at .364 in 14th just below the former two means that this team should still know how to get on base and not make outs.

    The team is driven by a trio of 40 year olds in Tomoaki “Aniki” Kanemoto (307/392/527, 62XBH 108RBI), Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi (2.99ERA 162.1IP 11-6, most IP on the team), and catcher Akihiro Yano. The Tigers seemed to lose steam midway through the season when key cogs Yano, Arai, and Fujikawa were lost to the Olympic team in Beijing. But not being able to revive the team when these players returned after the Games was just sad. The vaunted reliever trio of JFK was less effective this season, perhaps showing the effects of their age and work over the past several seasons, with Jeff Williams (3.09ERA 55.1IP) and Tomoyuki Kubota (3.16ERA 85.1IP) more hittable than usual and only Kyuji Fujikawa (0.67ERA 67.2IP 38SV) posting his usual numbers. The emergence of Ryo Watanabe (2.67ERA 67.1IP) should take some of the load off the trio and the bullpen will be a key component in the playoffs as Tigers starters don’t go deep into games (as seen by Shimoyanagi’s 162.1IP being the team leader). The team will have to return to an earlier form of getting on base and shutdown bullpen to pull off some success in the postseason against defending Japan Series champs Chunichi and the red hot Giants.

    3. Chunichi Dragons

    71-68-5 (.511)

    RS-RA: 535 – 556

    The defending Japan Series champions had to fight the upstart Hiroshima Carp hard at the end of the season to squeak into the playoffs. The Dragons were battling for the CL pennant until they quickly lost steam with the Olympics where the team lost NPB-high 4 players to Beijing in Araki, Morino, Kawakami, and Iwase, the latter blowing up badly as he was left in or brought into games he shouldn’t have been on the way to Japan’s 4th place finish. The Dragons have a great ace in Kenshin Kawakami (2.30ERA 117.1IP) and Masa Yamamoto had a revival season with 3.16ERA over team high 133.2IP. Closer Hitoki Iwase (2.94ERA 49IP 36SV) has become more hittable over the past two seasons and this may be a key difference with Hanshin.

    4. Hiroshima Carp

    69-70-5 (.496)

    RS-RA: 537 – 569

    Marty Brown’s little team that could almost snatched a playoff spot away from Chunichi but just fell short by 2 games in their final season at the Hiroshima Municipal Stadium. The new Hiroshima stadium that will open next spring looks to be a beauty of a ballpark in the NPB filled with characterless multipurpose domes. The Carp were carried on the back of new import Colby Lewis (2.68ERA 178IP 15-8, 2nd in CL ERA and wins despite being on a losing team) and Kenta Kurihara continues to grow as an offensive force (2008 – 904OPS, 2007 – 873, 2006 – 837) but the team is in serious need other offensive parts to fill out the lineup. Yeah, it’s nice that Higashide hit 310, but he can’t draw walks or hit for power (678 OPS).

    5. Tokyo Yakult Swallows

    66-74-4 (.471)

    RS-RA: 583 – 569

    The birds underperformed their Pythagorean expectations (based on RS-RA) despite having a capable bullpen stocked with Lim Chang-Yong (3.00ERA 51IP 33SV though it seems the league figured out how to hit the funky submariner as the season went along because he was unhittable early in the season), setup men Kenichi Matsuoka (1.39ERA 71.1IP), Takehiko Oshimoto (3.34ERA 72.2IP), and oft-injured Ryota Igarashi (2.47ERA 43.2IP). The emergence of Masanori Ishikawa (2.68ERA 195IP 12-10, after 3 seasons of 4+ ERA) as the staff ace was a bright spot of the pitching staff. On the hitting side, Norichika Aoki replicated his 2007 season with 347/413/529 further cementing his position as one of the best Japanese hitters. The emergence of Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (279/364/406) and Kazuki Fukuchi (320/366/449) as dependable bats is promising. And there is talk that Aaron Guiel will return to the Swallows next year after a miserable injury-riddled season (200/306/396), his age (36) is a worrying factor though for a three true outcomes (strikeout, homerun, walk) type player like him.

    6. Yokohama BayStars

    48-94-2 (.338)

    RS-RA: 552 – 706

    The miserable season for Yokohama came to a thankful end, but not before the BayStars managed to become the only team to surrender over 700 runs this season. The only bright spots on the team were hitters Shuichi Murata who won the CL homerun title with 46 roundtrippers (though 29 were hit in his bandbox of a home park Yokohama Stadium), and the breakout season by Seiichi Uchikawa (378/416/540) who became only the 10th player in NPB history to finish the season with a batting average north of .370, can he be the second coming of Norichika Aoki?

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, NPB, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

    2008 PL season review and playoff preview

    Posted by simon c on 2008 October 9日 Thursday

    The Central League still has a few rain out games to remake that will determine first place, and the huge one game advantage and home field advantage (all games at home), so I’ll leave the CL until next week.

    The Pacific League has completed its regular season schedule and the first round of the playoffs (best of 3) begins this Saturday.

    So, here’s the season review and Climax Series playoff preview.

    1. Saitama Seibu Lions

    76-64-4 (.543)

    RS-RA: 715-626

    The powerful team that ran with the PL lead all season backed into clinching the PL crown while losing 7 straight because 2nd place Orix was also in a losing skid. The team will be without GG Sato (105GP 432PA 30 2B 21HR 302/368/546) in the playoffs. GG was invaluable in the first half of the season until his Olympic blunder (though, he was playing out of position) and subsequent injury. Luckily for the Lions, they have a capable replacement in Taketoshi Goto who blossomed in GG’s absence with 49GP 184PA 14 2B 12HR 301/370/602. The big time slugging team just fell shy of 200 homeruns with 198 (in a 144 game season!), significant contributions coming from Takeya Nakamura’s breakout 46 homers, Hiram Bocachica’s 20HR in just 78 games, shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima who had an MVP season with 124GP 556PA 32 2B 21HR 331/410/527, and Craig Brazell’s 27 homers (though with a blackhole 294 OBP). The team struggled in September with a 9-15 record, but has a couple of weeks to prepare for their playoff appearance on October 17th and hopefully will be back in form by then, and the one game and home field advantages should help. But if the shutdown pitching of Fighters win the first round of the playoffs, the Lions will have a tough task at their hands, as pitching and defense are paramount in the playoffs, and slugging not so much.

    2. Orix Buffaloes

    75-68-1 (.524)

    RS-RA: 637-605

    The surprise team of the season, as most people had written them off far out of the playoff picture in their preseason predictions. American manager Terry Collins resigned in May with a 21-28 record, since then interim manager Daijiro Oishi directed the team to a great 54-40-1 (.574) record. The team definitely has more momentum than the Lions at the moment finishing off the season by sweeping the Lions in a 2 game series and capping it off with a win against the lowly Hawks. The Buffs rely on the power bats of NPB veterans Alex Cabrera (37yo 36HR 315/394/593) and Tuffy Rhodes (40yo 40HR 277/394/583). Word in the clubhouse is that Oishi had much better relationships with the sluggers than Collins, and they performed much better with the new manager after season opening slumps. Pitching on this team isn’t shabby either with the unheralded four Satoshi Komatsu (172.1IP 2.51ERA 15-3 3holds), Chihiro Kaneko (165IP 3.98ERA 10-9), Shogo Yamamoto (154.2IP 3.38ERA 10-6 2holds) and Kazuki Kondo (149IP 3.44ERA 10-7) anchoring the rotation. The Buffs will be a formidable opponent at home in the first round of the playoffs against the Fighters, as the only difference is in Darvish (though that’s a big difference) but the Fighters have absolutly no power and Rhodes and Cabrera can win the series for them in the non-Darvish games.

    3. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters 

    73-69-2 (.514)

    RS-RA: 533-541

    This low scoring team is built for its cavernous home, the Sapporo Dome, and rightly so as the team’s recent playoff success topped by being the Japan Series and Asia Series champions in 2006. The Fighters are, of course, led by the best pitcher in Japan in Yu Darvish (200.2IP despite going to the Olympics! 10CG 208K 1.88ERA 16-4). But one man can’t win a best of 3 series, and the rest of their pitching staff is not spectacular with Ryan Glynn (3.64ERA), Brian Sweeney (3.48ERA), Masaru Takeda (2.96ERA), and Shugo Fujii (3.25ERA) for getting to pitch half their games in a pitcher’s paradise. The Fighters hit a league low 82 homers during the season, but time and again over the years they’ve shown that they can win closely fought games, so as long as the team can hold a lead to its shutdown closer Micheal Nakamura (2.14ERA 46.1IP 28SV) the team will be able to win in the playoffs (reliable setup man Takeda Hisashi with ERAs in the 2s the last two seasons has been rather hittable this season with 4.40ERA). The power will be supplied by Kensuke Tanaka (297/379/451 32 2B), Atsunori Inaba (301/380/513 25 2B 20HR), and Terrmel Sledge (289/361/473). Hmm.. looking at this, I think the Fighters can take the first round of the playoffs against the Buffaloes. All they have to do is win one of the non-Darvish games and both teams equally rely on just a few power bats that can mightily swing the series.

    4. Chiba Lotte Marines

    73-70-1 (.510)

    RS-RA: 662-648

    Bobby Valentine’s team finished just half a game out of the playoffs in the fierce battle that lasted until the end of the season. The gaping hole in relief left open by the departures of Yabuta (Kansas City), Fujita (Yomiuri), and Kobayashi (Cleveland) were nicely filled in with Yusuke Kawasaki (3.00ERA 29holds), Brian Sikorski (2.23ERA 13holds), and the emergence of Tadahiro Ogino (2.45ERA 30SV) as the team’s closer. The team wasn’t short on power either with Shoitsu Ohmatsu (499SLG), Toshiaki Imae (509SLG), Jose Ortiz (454SLG from 2B), and Tasuku Hashimoto (404OBP and 536SLG as a catcher!). The team just fell short. Better luck next year, Bobby.

    5. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

    65-76-3 (.461)

    RS-RA: 627-607

    This mystery team posted a positive run differential all season but struggled to put together a winning season and was removed from the playoff race early in the summer. I’m sure losing their closer Fukumori (Texas) didn’t help, but the team needs more help in relief so that it can win close games, even though Tsuyoshi Kawagishi (1.94ERA 55.2IP) and Kanehisa Arime (2.05ERA 44IP) both put up impressive numbers in relief. As long as 40 year old slugger Takeshi Yamasaki’s performance (276/372/471) doesn’t fall off a cliff, the team should be able to expect better things next season. Hisashi Iwakuma had an incredible season (1.87ERA 5CG 201.2IP 21-4, a definite Sawamura (Japanese Cy Young) frontrunner along with Darvish) considering how incompetent his teammates were.

    6. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks

    64-77-3 (.454)

    RS-RA: 556-641

    The living legend Sadaharu Oh’s team was in playoff contention until late summer, then had a disastrous Sept-Oct (6-21!) and ended up finishing at the bottom of the standings, even losing the final game for Oh in a “sayonara” walk-off fashion to nearly futile Eagles. 35 year old Nobuhiko Matsunaka’s slip in performance over the last several years (2004-1.179OPS, 2005-1.075, 2006-.981, 2007-.798, 2008-.871) is a concern as he’s not getting any younger. Fellow slugger Hiroki Kokubo is even older at 37, Hitoshi Tamura is always battling injuries, so the only bright hope is the up and coming third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda (279/322/468), his lack of ability to draw walks is concerning but he’s still 25. On the pitching side, Toshiya Sugiuchi had a great season (2.66ERA 196IP) and Ohtonari had a solid season (3.12ERA 155.2IP) but highly touted rookie Shota Ohba had a disastrous campaign (5.42ERA 78IP 14HR), he’ll have to cut down on the number of homers given up to improve his performance.

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, MLB, NPB, opinion, statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

    Saitama Seibu Lions lower playoff ticket prices!

    Posted by simon c on 2008 September 29日 Monday

    When the Saitama Seibu Lions clinched 2nd place (and the right to host some of the Climax Series playoff games) earlier in the season they announced several efforts to ramp up their ability to draw larger crowds to the Seibu Dome, which due to its inconvenient location at the border of Saitama and Tokyo isn’t primed for big crowds, especially on weekdays when they’ve drawn only about 14000 people up until the recent potential 1st place clinching games which had drawn 26000-33000 people. The Lions backed into clinching 1st place recently when the 2nd place Orix Buffaloes lost enough games, this means that the Lions are going to host the PL finals (or Climax Series 2nd stage) with a 1 game advantage, and Saitama gets to host the entire series of up to 6 games (Oct 17-19, 21-23).

    The two major efforts in their campaign are:

    • Host Game 1 at Omiya Stadium. They had already hosted a game there on June 27, the stadium is more centrally located within Saitama and this was in line with Seibu’s efforts to more firmly plant its roots in Saitama. Hosting the first playoff game there was an unexpected surprise and should help the team in this endeavour.
    • Lower ticket prices! Ticket prices have been dramatically slashed in an effort to draw strong home team support and to not be an embarrassment. The Lions have also designated much of the third base side (traditionally for the away team supporters) for Lions fans, they better turn up in droves though I’m sure other fans won’t shy away from buying the “Lions cheering section” seats on the third base side. Anyways, here are the prices.
    • Regular season: Special S 10,000 yen, Infield S 4000 yen, Infield reserved 3000 yen, Infield unreserved 2500 yen, Outfield unreserved 1800 yen.
    • Climax Series: Backstop Special 7500 yen, L Infield reserved 2000 yen, L Infield unreserved 1500 yen, L Outfield unreserved 1000 yen, Visitor outfield unreserved 1500 yen.
    So, basically the team halved ticket prices and are trying to fill the stadium with Lions fans. I plan on being there to take in a few games. Despite these efforts though, tickets are still available for all 6 games.

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, NPB, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

    Oji wins 2008 AL Finals!

    Posted by simon c on 2008 March 20日 Thursday

    Congratulations to Oji Paper Ice Hockey Team, the 2008 Asia League Ice Hockey champions!

    3rd place finisher in the regular season, Oji convincingly won the championship, going undefeated in the playoffs reeling off 9 straight victories. Oji let in 2 or less goals in every game but 1 (the 10-5 shootout semifinal win over High1). Goalie Haruna was outstanding throughout the playoffs, and it was no different in the deciding game as he stopped 33 of 35 Cranes shots in the 3-2 win. With a 1.89 GAA, only allowing 17 goals on 221 SOG for a very solid 92.3% save percentage, he probably deserves the finals and playoff MVPs. He outplayed McLennan in the finals, Jamie had been having an excellent playoffs up until that point with a 92% save percentage going into the finals and he had singlehandedly won games for the Cranes, but in the end Haruna was the man.

    This was the first AL championship for Oji (every final before this year featured the Cranes v. Seibu/Kokudo), and the last time Oji won the league was the Japan Ice Hockey League way back in 1994. Congrats Oji!

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    2008 AL semifinals games 1-2

    Posted by simon c on 2008 March 3日 Monday

    Asia League Ice Hockey completed its first 2 games of the semifinal series this past weekend. Results were (home teams listed first):

    2008.3.1 Seibu 2 – 3 Cranes

    2008.3.1 High1 5 – 10 Oji

    2008.3.2 Seibu 4 – 1 Cranes

    2008.3.2 High1 2 – 3 Oji

    So, Seibu and the Cranes split the games in Tokyo and head up to Hokkaido with the Cranes now having earned the home advantage with games 3 and 4 taking place up in Kushiro.

    Oji pounded 10 goals into the High1 net despite only having 30 shots on net (33% shooting percentage!) in game 1. High1 finally pulled the starting goalie Eum (who had a solid regular season with 90.9% save percentage) after 32 minutes when he let in the 6th goal. High1 came back much sharper in game 2 with the 1 goal loss, but was still outshot 36-24. Defenseman Okubo was involved in both High1 goals, but was also on the ice for all 3 even strength Oji goals, so maybe the Japan national team candidate’s offensive prowess does come with a price.

    Both teams with first round byes seemed to have been rusty coming off the long break in the schedule, as the league wrapped up its regular season on 27 January, and the top 2 teams didn’t see playoff action until 1 March, a month later (Seibu had the 3 Japanese championship games inbetween, but High1 was forced to play practice matches against local university teams to stay in game shape).

    I attended the game 1 between Seibu and the Cranes in Higashifushimi, Tokyo. Seibu had solid rushes up the ice time and again in the first 2 periods, but hardly any of them led to quality scoring chances or shots. Then, as things came together for the team in the 3rd, Jamie McLennan was there to slam the door shut with one great save after another. McLennan deservedly won the game MVP. Seibu won game 2 convincingly by 3 goals, but all 5 goals in the game were scored on the power play (and only 1 Seibu goal was with a man advantage, the other 4 goals were scored with 2 man advantages!), so maybe this means Seibu hasn’t figured out McLennan yet, so it will be interesting to see what happens in games 3 and 4.

    Some photos from game 1:

    Cranes before the game started

    Cranes before the game.

    Tyson Nash with the playoff beard

    Tyson Nash (looks like a playoff beard, but he’s had it since shortly after he landed in Japan)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

    Jamie McLennan in Beijing and AL semifinal mini preview

    Posted by simon c on 2008 February 22日 Friday

    Some interesting observations from Jamie about the Asia League. I’ve seen games in Korea but not in China, so first hand reports like this are neat (from his blog entry at The Hockey News):

    Secondly, in 17 years as a pro hockey player I’d like to claim I’ve had many experiences and would say I’ve seen it all when it came to what this game has to offer. But I broke out laughing in amazement six minutes into the game when I spotted the goal judge behind the net, smoking, with an ashtray on the boards and carrying on like he’s watching the game from his living room couch.

    It was awesome. I’m not condoning the smoking issue, but it was a very unique sight to see someone involved in a sport actively lighting a dart while the play is on. There were plumes of smoke everywhere around him, like he’d actually see a goal if it went in. It was so crazy; I thought it was worth mentioning. It was one of those things that if you didn’t see for yourself, you wouldn’t believe.

    Haha, pretty funny stuff. The level of professionalism really varies throughout the countries in this league. Looks like Jamie was needed in the second game though, as the undermanned Cranes managed to somehow lose to the lowly China Sharks by the score of 6-5 (who only won 3 out of 30 games all season to finish dead last).

    The Cranes just swept Anyang Halla in 3 games (best of 5 series) to advance to the semifiinals of the AL playoffs. But all 3 games were decided by one goal, so it looks like the series could have gone either way (I didn’t get to see any games, but shots on goal were fairly even). Now I’ll get to see McLennan, Nash, and Co. in action against the Seibu Prince Rabbits when they open the semifinals here in Tokyo on 1 March.

    The other semifinal features Oji, who handily swept the underpowered Bucks, against High1, the first non-Japanese team to finigh the regular season with such a good record (2nd). Both Seibu and High1 had byes in the first round, they should be well prepared for the semis. The Cranes fortunes rest on McLennan’s shoulders, as the team’s been inconsistent all season and Seibu is a solid squad with no obvious weaknesses. Oji – High1 should be a very even and interesting series. I’d like to see High1 win and become the first non-Japanese team to make it to the AL final, but this series is a real tough call.

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

    2007-08 Asia League Ice Hockey Regular Season Review and Playoff Preview

    Posted by simon c on 2008 February 16日 Saturday

    The 2007-08 season of AL was competed with 7 teams (the league makeup changes every year, hopefully we’ll get some new teams entering the league in the near future). The top 6 teams make the playoffs (haha), the top 2 teams get a bye in the first round where 3rd plays 6th and 4th plays 5th.

    I was going to write a more thorough season review and playoff preview, but work and the recycle paper scandal (and the McLennan story that was too good to pass up) took up too much of my time, and the playoffs begin today, so here’s a quick summary. (EDIT: Or so I thought, this turned out to be, by far, the longest article I’ve written so far for my young blog. And it seriously needs editing and is full of grammatical and other errors… but I’ve got a real job and this is just a hobby so please bear with my late night stream of consciousness, thanks.)

    Final Standings

    RK

    Team

    G

    W

    OTW

    T

    OTL

    L

    GF – GA

    Points

    1

    Seibu Prince Rabbits

    30

    20

    0

    1

    0

    9

    138 – 73

    61

    2

    High1 Ice Hockey Team

    30

    17

    2

    1

    2

    8

    118 – 89

    58

    3

    Oji Ice Hockey Team

    30

    17

    1

    2

    2

    8

    112 – 74

    57

    4

    Nippon Paper Cranes

    30

    15

    1

    2

    1

    11

    97 – 85

    50

    5

    Anyang Halla Ice Hockey Club

    30

    13

    1

    2

    1

    13

    93 – 92

    44

    6

    HC Nikko IceBucks

    30

    8

    2

    2

    0

    18

    60 – 109

    30

    7

    China Sharks

    30

    3

    0

    0

    1

    26

    63 – 159

    10

    http://www.alhockey.com/popup/9/standings.html

    Scoring Leaders

    RK

    Player Name

    No

    Team

    GP

    G

    A

    P

    1

    KIM, Alex

    79

    HG1

    30

    23

    28

    51

    2

    PRPIC, Joel

    33

    SPR

    27

    17

    30

    47

    3

    SMITH, Tim

    21

    HG1

    30

    23

    23

    46

    4

    MARTINEC, Patrik

    43

    AHL

    29

    7

    29

    36

    5

    ENDICOTT, Shane

    12

    OJI

    30

    13

    22

    35

    5

    MITANI, Darcy Takeshi

    20

    NPC

    28

    13

    22

    35

    5

    SMITH, Bud

    58

    HG1

    30

    9

    26

    35

    5

    SUZUKI, Takahito

    18

    SPR

    30

    13

    22

    35

    5

    YULE, Chris

    75

    SPR

    30

    10

    25

    35

    10

    FUJITA, Kiyoshi

    40

    SPR

    28

    16

    18

    34

    10

    SAITO, Takeshi

    19

    OJI

    30

    11

    23

    34

    http://www.alhockey.com/popup/9/point_rank.html

    Goalie Stats (sorted by Save %, goalies who faced over 100 SOG in bold)

    RK

    Player Name

    Team

    No

    GP

    SOG

    GA

    Saves

    Sv%

    GAA

    1

    KATAYAMA, Kazuhito

    SPR

    20

    4

    79

    5

    74

    93.67

    1.88

    2

    McLENNAN, Jamie

    NPC

    29

    14

    415

    33

    382

    92.05

    2.5

    3

    KIKUCHI, Naoya

    SPR

    39

    29

    801

    64

    737

    92.01

    2.37

    4

    HARUNA, Masahito

    OJI

    61

    20

    513

    43

    470

    91.62

    2.22

    5

    KIM, Sun-Ki

    AHL

    32

    1

    23

    2

    21

    91.3

    2

    6

    EUM, Hyun-Seung

    HG1

    31

    29

    854

    78

    776

    90.87

    2.81

    7

    ISHIKAWA, Hisashi

    NPC

    61

    18

    538

    50

    488

    90.71

    2.97

    8

    KANAMARU, Hisashi

    HG1

    39

    4

    83

    8

    75

    90.36

    3.47

    9

    HASHIMOTO, Michio

    NIB

    1

    30

    1031

    100

    931

    90.3

    3.39

    10

    OGINO, Junji

    OJI

    30

    10

    228

    23

    205

    89.91

    2.5

    11

    GUARD, Kelly

    CSH

    1

    2

    59

    6

    53

    89.83

    3

    12

    SON, Ho-Seong

    AHL

    33

    27

    698

    77

    621

    88.97

    2.98

    13

    PARK, Jun-Soo

    AHL

    30

    5

    89

    12

    77

    86.52

    3.6

    14

    KIYOKAWA, Kazuhiko

    OJI

    45

    2

    41

    6

    35

    85.37

    4.2

    15

    KAWAGUCHI, Rei

    NIB

    30

    2

    22

    4

    18

    81.82

    6.95

    16

    YU Yang

    CSH

    30

    18

    428

    78

    350

    81.78

    6

    17

    XIE Ming

    CSH

    33

    8

    170

    33

    137

    80.59

    7.35

    18

    MATSUMOTO, Shiro

    SPR

    31

    1

    7

    2

    5

    71.43

    6

    19

    TADA, Kyohei

    OJI

    55

    1

    0

    0

    0

    0

    0

    http://www.alhockey.com/popup/9/gksp.html

    1.seibu Seibu Prince Rabbits (20-1-9, 61 pts) – First round bye

    Another solid season by the bunnies. Like in previous years, the team started training hard early in the summer with a regimented program under the guidance of their conditioning trainer. This worked as the team started off the season 7-1-1 (Sept-Oct) and solidly in first place. But this team can get sloppy and streaky during the regular season, and only the luck of their schedule allowed Seibu to claim top of the table. The Rabbits finished the season with 3 straight games against the lowly Bucks, easy 9 points (8-0, 4-1, and 8-2 wins) to overtake High1 for 1st place. But the bunnies went only 4-6 leading up to the Bucks games at the end of the season.

    Seibu did beat Oji and the Cranes to capture the All Japan Championship on 10 Feb, and the bunnies are deadly clinical on the power play leading the league with incredible 34% conversion rate. Seibu is definitely the favourite in the upcoming playoffs, especially with the unstable Cranes this year, and the unknown factor of High1 in the post season. Seibu features the highest scoring Asian trained player in the league in the veteran Takahito Suzuki, as well as Prpic, Fujita, and Yule who all cracked the top 10 in scoring. Then again, they did run up the score 15-3 against the Sharks one game, so the AL scoring leader board and goal differentials figures are still not very reliable. And all these players are on the wrong side of 30, so they have the skills and experience, but a youthful team may outskate and out-grit them.

    Okubo_Fujita

    Okubo (High1) and Fujita (Seibu)

     

    2. High1High1 (19-1-10, 58 pts) – First round bye

    21-1-12 for 62 points last season as Kangwon Land (34 game schedule in 2006-07). On a per game basis High1 earned 1.93 pts, with a GF of 3.93 and GA of 2.97. Whereas Kangwon last season was 1.82 pts, 4.5 GF, and 3.24 GA. Upon first glance it seems like the team did better last season, but there were two Chinese minnows last year, where as they combined to form the somewhat more competitive China Sharks this year. So, it’s difficult to compare with just those raw numbers.

    But one aspect of the team that definitely improved was the power play unit. It went from league average 24% (5th out of 8 teams) to an impressive 31%, good enough for 2nd in the league. Not taking stupid penalties, and containing the High1 power play will be the key for the team that meets them in the semifinal (Oji or Nikko). Korean teams did have an easier schedule than the Japanese teams though, as they got to beat up on the Sharks 3 extra times when compared to their Japanese counterparts. So this may really have been a 3rd place team had the schedule not been unbalanced with the extra regional games.

    The incredible aspect of the High1 season was that the team lost its starting goalie Ho-Seong Son (34GP, 89 Sv%, 3.14GAA), top scorer Kyu-Hyun Kim (26+38=64pts), and young national team player Kwon-Jae Lee (1+5=6pts) all to its archrival Anyang Halla. So, High1 was reasonably expected to struggle this season. But in their place Hyun-Seung Eum (29GP, 91 Sv%, 2.81GAA) and Korean-American import Alex Kim (23+28=51pts, good enough for the league scoring title) more than filled in. Japanese defenseman Tomohito Okubo continues to be crucial to the team’s success with 28 assists (2 shy of league leader Prpic’s 30) and 33 points to lead all defensemen, and he’s the only foreign based player, besides NHL experienced goalie Yutaka Fukufuji, to be invited to the national team selection camp. Together with D Byoung-Wook Hwang (8+12=20pts) and the Smith brother (Tim 23+23=46pts, Bud 9+26=35pts) the High1 fivesome is truly a force to be reckoned with.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, Japan, opinion, statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

     
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