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  • 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.

    3. Oji Oji (18-2-10, 57 pts) – First round opponent is the 6th place Bucks

    Oji barely missed the first round bye, which it probably would’ve earned had it got to play the Sharks as often as High1 did. Strangely Shane Endicott led the team in scoring (13+22=35pts), even though every time I saw Oji play this season, he was rather invisible. In its usual fashion Oji started off the year slowly and cranked it up in the second half, almost catching High1 for 2nd place, ending the season on an 11-2 run (Dec-Jan). Apparently the team was trying out young players at the beginning of the season, but went back to its tried and true veterans such as defensemen Kunihiko Sakurai (10+22=32pts) and Yasunori Iwata (6+21=27pts). Takeshi Saito was another Asian trained player to crack the top 10 in scoring with 11+23=34pts. The Oji power play saw a drastic drop off in effectiveness from 32% last season to 22% this season. But the penalty killing unit became slightly more effective going from 82% to 83% (leading the lead by a whopping 5%!). Oji was upset by Nikko in the first round of last year’s playoffs, so they’ll definitely have revenge on their minds. It should be a great series again with this factor in mind.

    Iimura_Kawashima

    Cranes’ Iimura celebrating after a goal against Oji

    4. CranesNippon Paper Cranes (16-2-12, 50pts) – First round opponent is the 5th place Halla

    The Cranes really turned into the Paper Cranes this season after years of dominating the Asia League ever since its inception. The Cranes have finished atop the AL table for 4 consecutive regular seasons, from 2003-04 to 2006-07. The team that went 28-1-5 for 86 points in 34 games last season saw its totals drop off a cliff to 50 points in 30 games. Let’s try to put this in context. The Cranes had 2.53 points, 5.8 GF, and 2.3 GA per game, but the Paper Cranes this year recorded only 1.67 points, 3.2 GF, and 2.83 GA per game. Granted, the Cranes had Derek Plante (20+27=47pts) last year and the team has a habit of running up the score.

    It seems as though the club became complacent after all the years of regular season success and finally winning the treble (AL Regular Season, AL Playoffs, and All Japan Championship) last season, as Nippon Paper started off the season with very low key (and probably lowly paid) imports who were not effective at all. Goalie Reese Kalleitner, who is part Japanese descent if I remember correctly, came directly from University of Windsor (CIS) and he was released partway through the season without ever entering a game, unfortunately. He was essentially a practice goalie, too bad things didn’t work out for him in his partial homeland, and without further research it’s difficult to attribute whether this is because of level of play in CIS or just an individual case. Veteran Swede and World Juniors alumni Niklas Sundblad who had a cup of coffee with the Flames of the NHL in 95-96 was clearly on the downside of his career in his mid 30’s. Even though he was a point per game in Italian Serie A in 2006-07 (32GP, 15+19=34pts), he could only manage 1+1=2pts in 10 games with the Cranes. Perhaps he was just a poor fit with the team’s system because Italy is ranked higher than Japan internationally, and the Italian league is probably stronger than the Asian League. Or maybe his skills fell off the cliff too, that’s possible with age.

    To rectify this situation, the Cranes did a 180 and brought in ex-NHL players, goalie Jamie McLennan (something went wrong in Russia this season for him) and agitator Tyson Nash who are good friends of team veteran Joel Dyck. McLennan promptly put up the best numbers in the league with a 92% save percentage, matching that of Seibu’s Kikuchi. Nash got injured and was ineffective in his 5 appearances, only recording 1 goal and 16 PIM. The Cranes suddenly have an elite level goalie, and goaltending is the key to any playoff success as any coach can attest. So, the team that bumbled along during the regular season (and didn’t even finish off the season with a bang, as the Cranes only went 5-5 in their last 10 games even losing to the lowly Sharks by 5-6) is now a serious threat to win in the playoffs all because of one Jamie McLennan.

    5. HallaAnyang Halla (14-2-14, 44pts) – First round opponent is the 4th place Cranes

    Halla also had a disappointing season. This was also a .500 team a season ago, going 16-2-16 in 2006-07. But Anyang snatched up top level talent from its Korean rival High1 (then Kangwon) in 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). Son basically replicated his season by saving 89% of the shots again for a 2.98 GAA in 27 games. But the other two were disappointments with Kim only going 10+6=16pts despite recording 98 shots, and Lee managed only 1 goal and no assists in 21 contests.

    Martinec

    Martinec of Halla

    Returning veteran import Patrik Martinec was the only Halla player to make the scoring leader board dishing out assists liberally to end up with 7+29=36pts. Mid-season pickup Tomas Hruby was very productive with 10+16=26pts in only 19 contests, he had suddenly lost his job in the preseason when the Chinese team became the Sharks and decided to go with North American imports right before the season started. His success is not a surprise though, as he was part of the productive Czech duo that carried Hosa last season, managing to somehow score 50 points (out of the team’s total 86 GF!) on a team that only won 6 out of 34 games. The team spread its scoring around with 6 players earning more than 20 points, but some of the scoring punch from last season went missing as a sizeable portion of the 146 goals scored last season were against porous Chinese defenses and goalies. Halla will have a tough time trying to score on McLennan in the first round of the playoffs.

    6. BucksNikko IceBucks (10-2-18, 30pts) – First round opponent is the 3rd place Oji

    Even graver financial troubles hit the Bucks this season as the team could not afford any imports and had were forced to ice an all domestic squad that clearly lacked in size and skill when compared to other Japanese and Korean teams. The Nikko team put up a valiant effort though, earning wins against every team in the league except for Seibu. The team really missed the presence of someone like Shjon Podein and Martin Kariya whom they’ve had on their rosters in past seasons. Bucks really had trouble scoring, and their 60 goals was the lowest total in the league (even less than the Sharks!), averaging only 2 goals a game. The scoring leaders on the team were Hatano, Shinohara, Tsuchida, and Mita, but they only managed 23, 21, 21, and 19 points each respectively.

    Bucks

    Bucks celebrating a goal

    Only the team’s competent defense and goaltending kept the Bucks from having to fight the Sharks for the last playoff spot, as Bucks allowed 109 goals while the Sharks were letting everyone through with their 159 GA. Outsized, out-skilled, and out-trained, but the Bucks face the same opponent in the first round of playoffs as last season when they upset Oji to advance to the semifinals. It will be a more difficult endeavour this season without the help of powerful imports Podein and Paradise. But in a short series with a hot goalie anything can happen, and the Bucks’ Hashimoto is certainly no slouch being the only goalie to play in all 30 games this season while saving 90% of the pucks that came his way and a 3.39GAA on a team with outsized and outpaced defensemen. Nikko needs Hashimoto to stand on his head, and get some lucky bounces and grind out one goal wins if they want to upset Oji in the playoffs again this year (the games were 5-4, 2-3, 6-5, and 3-0 last year in favour of the Bucks, surprisingly high scoring).

    7. SharksChina Sharks (3-0-27, 10pts) – Only team to miss the playoffs

    Another iteration of the great Chinese hockey experiment ended in failure, yet again. The two Chinese teams had always been the great wide definitely can’t-miss doormats ever since joining the league in the 2004-05 season. Since the teams showed no signs of visible improvement over the 3 seasons they were in the league, their general ineptitude can be summed up with the following statistic: 29 wins in 228 games. And most of these wins came in games that these two teams played against each other. That is some real hard sucking. So it came as an unbelievable surprise when China beat Korea to promote to Division I in men’s senior ice hockey world championship a couple of years ago, as Korean hockey had definitely been making progress while China hadn’t. Of course, China then promptly lost all their Division I games the following year by wide margins and fell right back down to Division II. There must have been some sort of a tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum. The good news is that both the New York Islanders, owned by Chinese-born Charles Wang, and the San Jose Sharks are trying to help promote the sport and improve the level of play in China.

    Derek Eisler

    Derek Eisler, head coach of the China Sharks

    The China Sharks actually had a promising start to the season with a 4-1 win against the Bucks at home in Beijing. And except for one 9-0 blowout at the hands of Oji, the Sharks kept the score respectable (i.e. 5 goals allowed or less) in every game up to the end of October, even winning another game 4-3 against Halla on 1 November. The team played many closely fought 1 or 2 goal games. This would have been an unthinkable performance from a Chinese team in previous seasons. The main reasons for this success were import goalie Zach Sikich who tirelessly faced an endless parade of quality shots almost every game, and the one man wrecking crew Jason Beeman who managed to score 16 of the team’s total 63 goals for the season, while also recording 10 assists in the process. That’s one man scoring more than 1/4 of the team’s goals. He’s gotta be pretty damn good, and the team has to be equally awful, and that was this year’s Sharks.

    Maybe because the Sharks were actually losing some close contests, someone in the organization had the bright idea to improve the team’s goaltending situation as Sikich was a part time player in the UHL and only had cups of coffee at the ECHL level. So the team dumped Sikich in mid-Novemer, he who had been a great contributor to the team’s competitive level so far, and acquired Kelly Guard who was not getting any playing time with the AHL Binghamton Senators and had posted mediocre numbers at that level (around .900 Save % and 3.06-3.42GAA in 3 seasons of ECHL and AHL play). This may have worked out, but for some reason (not announced by the league or the team) Guard only played 2 games for the Sharks in late November against Halla and High1, then he was gone from the team.

    With both Guard and Sikich gone, the Sharks now had to rely on domestic goalies who could only do a better than real life imitations of “Red Light” Racicot at this level of play. So, the record shows that the Sharks repeatedly gave up more than 5 goals in losses throughout December and January, the worst of which was a 15-3 massacre by Seibu. One silver lining in the cloud was the Sharks 6-5 win over an admittedly shorthanded Cranes squad on the Chinese team’s last game of the season. The lesson learned here is that Chinese goalies really need some serious goaltending training and coaching. And the Chinese entry in the AL next year must ensure that their import goalie will stay for the whole season. I have no idea what happened with Guard after his 2 game cameo, but the Sharks can ill afford to repeat the same mistake after playing fairly respectable hockey in the first half of the season, only to be blown apart in the second half by being forced to use their underskilled domestic goalies. I really hope this was just bad luck on the part of the Sharks and not bad management, as I have read in the only pro Japanese hokey coach Hiroki Wakabayashi’s blog that the China Sharks head coach Derek Eisler is a great instructor and coach for developing players. As previous experiments with Chinese teams in the AL have only lasted 1 season each (teams moved cities and changed sponsors after the first season, then Beijing-based Nordic Vikings and their player exchange program only lasted one season), I really hope the San Jose Sharks are not going to pull the plug on this experiment, as professional training and coaching can only help raise the level of Chinese hockey.

    2 Responses to “2007-08 Asia League Ice Hockey Regular Season Review and Playoff Preview”

    1. Please have simoncurrie contact me!

      Chris Collins
      General Manager
      China Sharks Hockey Club
      http://www.ChinaSharks.com

      USA
      525 W. Santa Clara Street
      San Jose, California 95113
      Work: 1.408.287.7070
      Mobile: 1.408.234.4416
      Fax: 1.866.415.2944

      CHINA
      1108, BLDG 6, New Start Plaza
      5 Changchunqiao Road, Haidian
      Beijing, China. 100089
      Tel: 011.86.10.82503826 Tel:011.86.10.13311297412
      Fax: 011.86.10.62517779
      Fax 2: 1.866.415.2944
      Mobile: 1.408.234.4416
      SKYPE: (408) 916-1055

    2. sandrar said

      Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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