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:
- 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.
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.
Cranes goalie Hisashi Ishikawa, the playoff MVP, who unbelievably stopped 54 of 56 shots for the game 7 victory.
Cranes with the Asia League trophy, congratulations!! (and let’s hope there are at least 7 teams in the league again next season..)
more photos after this break: