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    Asia League 2009-10 Preview

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 September 17日 Thursday

    logo

    The ever changing Asia League of Ice Hockey had another paradigm shift this past off season. They’re easier to sum up in point form, so here we go:

    • Seibu Prince Rabbits are no more. The club has folded after finding no takers for its 5-oku yen (~$5m) annual team budget. With this, the league and Japanese hockey has lost their most powerful backer in the Seibu Group. The fallout from this catastrophic event saw former Seibu players becoming Seibu group employees, picked up by other Asia League teams, or moving to teams abroad.
    • Tohoku Free Blades are born! In the place of Seibu, a new team based in the Tohoku region (north east part of the main Honshu island) has joined the league. This is something to be celebrated as times are tough for the entire corporate sports scene in Japan with various company teams folding, disbanding, and suspending operations and hockey being no exception. The Blades are backed by major sports equipment retailer Xebio.
    • s_logoChina Sharks are now the China Dragon. The Chinese entry in the Asia league has severed its ties with the NHL San Jose Sharks after only one season. The Sharks had provided coaching and players who were crucial to the Chinese team avoiding the league basement for the first time in the league’s short history. But the team is heading in a new direction with its Belarusian coach and fewer imports in order to train their domestic players (the Dragon are essentially the Chinese national team). It is unclear what the financial arrangements were when the San Jose Sharks were affiliated with the China Sharks and what brought about this change in direction.
    • The league is shortening the playoffs to a best of 5 format instead of a best of 7 format that produced so much drama last season (bad move). Top 4 teams will make the playoffs instead of the top 5 (I liked the best of 3 play-in round between 4th and 5th place teams). It is also adopting IIHF rule changes that does not permit line changes for teams that committed icing, and also initial faceoffs on powerplays will take place in the offensive zone.

    Now, let’s take a team by team look at the upcoming season in more detail:

    c_logoNippon Paper Cranes (21-4-11, Playoff Champions)

    The defending champions from the 2008-09 season returns with a team largely unchanged. The Cranes have reduced the number of imports from two (Brad Tiley, Kelly Fairchild) to one (Pierre-Olivier Beaulieu) in order to save costs (Beaulieu has only ECHL and German 2nd division experience, thus should be considerably cheaper than the more experienced Tiley and Fairchild, but whether he’ll be able to contribute as much remains a question to be answered), and have also picked up national team member Daisuku Obara from Seibu. The amazing playoff run last season that capped off with the championship trophy was largely due to the outstanding goaltending of Hisashi Ishikawa who absolutely stood on his head in many postseason games. More of the same will be needed for the team to repeat as champions as the top of the league could be a logjam.

    a_logoAnyang Halla (23-4-9, lost in semifinals)

    In 2008-09 Halla became the first non-Japanese team to claim the regular season title. However, the team was unable to overcome the eventual champions Cranes despite having the home ice advantage in a tough 7 game series that went the distance (4 of the 7 games were 1 goal games). The core of the team is intact as Halla has done the previously unthinkable in the AL by inking their successful imports to multiyear deals (3 years for leading scorer Brock Radunske, 2 years each for Jon Awe and Brad Fast). With sniper Song Dong-Hwan back having a successful season (35GP 45P) after missing 2 seasons to military service, the team looks poised to avenge their playoff disappointment from the previous season.

    o_logoOji Eagles (22-4-10, lost in semifinals)

    The Eagles have decided to really save on expenses by doing away entirely with imports for the upcoming season. Instead the team has added national team forwards and former Seibu players Sho Sato and Yosuke Kon (the AL and Team Japan pest, in the Esa Tikkanen mould, it’s a compliment). The production from veteran imports Ricard Persson and Shane Endicott will be missed, but with the parent company Oji Paper’s finances on shakier grounds with the economic downturn, the team will ice an all-Japanese squad this season (though the team still has a “ringer” in Japanese passport holding Japanese-Canadian Aaron Keller who is also a national team defenceman). It’s still a good team, especially with the addition of Sato and Kon, but it’s tough to see this team taking either the regular season title or the playoff trophy home with them.

    h_logoHigh1 (13-4-19, lost in first round)

    The High1 club had a disappointing 2008-09 season being unceremoniously swept out of the play-in first round of the playoffs against the eventual champs Cranes after a 5th place finish in the regular season where they were not in contention with the top 4 teams. The team looks to rebound to 2007-08 form when they finished 2nd in the regular season. The team has brought back Tim Smith who had a successful run from 2006-08 (63GP 106P) and has also brought in new imports D Jeremy Van Hoof and F Trevor Gallant. Along with their Korean rookies, the team has also added Japanese rookie Hiroki Ueno who scored 30 points in 24 games for Waseda University in the Kanto University League (top university league in Japan).

    d_logoChina Dragon (6-4-26, did not make the playoffs)

    The ever changing Chinese entry in the Asia League will play as the China Dragon this season. The former China Sharks became the first team to send a non-Chinese team to the bottom of the standings last season largely in part to the excellent goaltending by NHL and AHL veterans Wade Flaherty (who won AL goalie of the year last season) and big, tough defenceman Steve McKenna, and the team showed the most discipline of any Chinese team in AL history by staying close in many games where they were blown out in the past (well, it may have been mostly due to Flaherty who played every game making 40+ saves per game with a 91.7% save percentage). The Dragon are allowed to have 7 imports on their roster, but intend on entering the season with only 3 or 4 imports in order to be less reliant on imports to better develop domestic players. The team is under the stewardship of experienced Belarusian Andrei Kovalev, and its imports haven’t been announced as of yet. Unless the team can sign a Flaherty-class goalie, look for China to sink back to the bottom of the league standings in the coming season. Oh yeah, and the new Dragon logo is totally underwhelming and uninspiring piece of bureaucratic art(?), don’t they have snazzy designers in Shanghai these days?

    i_logoNikko Ice Bucks (6-2-28, did not make the playoffs)

    The Bucks had their worst season since AL begun by becoming the first non-Chinese team to finish the season at the bottom of the table. The interesting choice of using unproven import forwards Eric Lafreniere (34GP 10P) and Mickey Gilchrist (36GP 19P) did not quite work out, but this is the team that has experienced the most changes during the offseason. Firstly, the Bucks have brought in 6 former Seibu players including national team captain Takahito Suzuki and NT goalie Naoya Kikuchi, the addition of 3 quality defencemen is sure to bolster their game in the defensive zone, and the addition of Bud Smith gives the team flexibility with its top 6 forwards. With such a significant upgrade to their team, the Bucks are the wildcard in the 2009-10 season. If the team gels well, it could finish high in the standings and fight their way through the playoffs. Though a 2 year plan is probably more realistic.

    fb_logoTohoku Free Blades (expansion team)

    The unproven Blades take the place of powerhouse Seibu in the league. The team was created last year based on 14 players who made the cut in team tryouts. Then once the team was officially approved to join the league, the Blades went out and reinforced their lineup with Asia Leaguers and imports. It was a coup obtaining Bin Ishioka (36GP 18P) from Seibu and D Steve Munn and LW Bruce Mulherin have a good trackrecord in the English league the past couple of seasons and have proved to be solid additions to the team so far in the preseason. The goaltending duties will fall on homegrown Michio Hashimoto who got bumped from the Bucks when they acquired Kikuchi, but Hashimoto is capable of stealing some games and will keep the team in games where they have no business being in. The Blades will play most of their games in Hachinohe, Aomori, but will also play a series in Koriyama, Fukushima, another city in the Tohoku region.

    pr_logoSeibu Prince Rabbits aftermath: 6 players including Suzuki and Kikuchi have signed with the Bucks, Kon and Sho Sato have signed with Oji, the Cranes acquired Obara, Kashino and Ishioka went to Tohoku, Yuya Yamada to High1, and G Inoue who was to become the first Seibu player from the Seibu junior team has joined China. Players going overseas are Go Tanaka to German 2nd division team ESV Kaufbeuren, Ryuichi Kawai (along with his younger brother Takuma who is the first Japanese player to appear in the Memorial Cup) are training in Alberta in now-retired Ryan Fujita’s hometown of Taber, Alberta (also Devin Setoguchi’s hometown) and will be trying out for minor league teams, long time ALer Joel Prpic has signed with Medveščak, the Croatian entry in the EBEL (Austrian based international league), and is waiting for his Croatian passport (his parents are Croatian) to be processed and should start playing with them in October.

    To say the least, this should be a very interesting Asia League season with so many changes to the league. I expect Halla to be the team to beat in the 2009-10 season, but the top of the standings could get very congested with the Cranes, Eagles, High1, and the Bucks all having a crack at it. Unless China can bring in a quality goalie, I expect the Dragon to be doormats once again, and the expansion Blades should finish ahead of them with Hashimoto in nets. And since the teams have only been playing preseason games in their respective regions (Hokkaido, Honshu, Korea, and China) probably to cut costs, so we are even more in the dark than usual regarding team strength and chemistry.

    The season opens on 19 September with the Hokkaido teams hosting the Honshu teams and the Korean derby in Anyang. Let’s drop the puck!

    PS This is exactly the 600th post on this blog, yay!

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    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, Japan, NHL, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

    AL Preseason Shorts + Ichiro

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 September 7日 Monday

    • Oji Eagles and Nippon Paper Cranes played a pair of free admission preseason games in Tomakomai, Hokkaido over the weekend. Results were 3-2 and 4-1 for an Oji sweep.
    • Tohoku Free Blades were officially admitted into the league on 5 September. Well, this was just a rubber stamping process since the club is starting out its life on stable grounds.

    freeblades-109788

    • Ex-Seibu Prince Rabbit D Ryuichi Kawai and (probably) his younger brother and ex-Gatineau Olympique Takuma Kawai are going to be on the ice for the University of Lethbridge team’s tryouts, even though they’re both not enrolled with the university. Apparently the training camp has guys trying to crack AHL and ECHL clubs, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare. The brothers are staying and training with ex-Seibu Ryan Fujita whose home is about a 40 minute drive from Lethbridge, Alberta.
    • The immortal Ichiro earned his 2000th Major League hit in style with a double against the A’s. Always a showman who marks special occasions with crafty hits or big bombs more often than his usual slap and dash.

    Mariners Athletics Baseball

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

    The Cranes lone import

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 August 14日 Friday

    The Nippon Paper Cranes will attempt to defend their Asia League title with only one import player, as the team has signed defenceman Pierre-Olivier Beaulieu as their lone import for the upcoming 2009-10 campaign.

    Beaulieu

    Beaulieu is a big defenceman at 195cm 97kg and had success in the ECHL and the 2nd division of German Bundesliga. But the production of Brad Tiley (D, 36GP 25P) and Kelly Fairchild (F, 20GP 23P), who were both NHL veterans, will be missed (though the team is stacked with great Asia Leaguers including Japanese-Canadians). Will the younger (and supposedly cheaper) Beaulieu be productive enough for the Cranes to defend their title, or will going cheap and young on their import cost the Cranes the title again? (In the 2007-08 season, the Cranes replaced their ineffective cheap imports with NHL vets Jamie McLennan and Tyson Nash midseason.)

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

    Preseason Hokkaido Derby

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 August 6日 Thursday

    Defending Asia League champions Nippon Paper Cranes will face off against the Oji Eagles for two preseason games at the beginning of September. Free admission for both games.

    3 Sept (Thu) 18:30 faceoff

    4 Sept (Fri) 10:30 faceoff

    Both games are held at the Oji Skate Center and which is located a mere 4 minute walk from JR Tomakomai station on Oji Street.

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

    Asia League Update

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 July 4日 Saturday

    Asia League Ice Hockey office has announced the tentative 2009-10 season schedule (pending Tohoku Free Blades approval into the league in the September general counsel, which seems backwards). The Blades basically take the place of the now defunct Seibu Prince Rabbits, and the league will operate just like last year with 4 Japanese teams, 2 Korean teams, and 1 Chinese team as a 7 team league. The teams will play 6 games against each other for a 36 game regular season that opens on 19 September in Korea and Hokkaido.

    Due to (cost cutting? and) to avoid clashing with the Vancouver Olympics, the playoffs have been shortened from 2008-09 and will only feature 4 teams playing two rounds of best of 5 series to determine the champion (last season included a best of 3 play-in round between 4th and 5th place teams, then best of 7 series).

    The expansion Tohoku Free Blades will open the season against the defending champion Nippon Paper Cranes in Kushiro. And the Greater Tokyo area will host a few games as the four Japanese teams will play doubleheaders in Shin-Yokohama on 14-15 November, in Sapporo on 19-20 December, and in Nishi-Tokyo (Higashifushimi) on 6-7 February.

    The Tohoku Free Blades will play half its home games at the Tohoku hockey hotbed of Hachinohe, Aomori, and will play the rest of the games in various cities around Tohoku including Koriyama, Fukushima.

    In addition to the officially announced player transfers, China Sharks have acquired tall scoring pest Joel Prpic (Seibu 35GP 43P 174PIM, he managed to score and draw a penalty simultaneously twice in one game I went to see) and Bin Ishioka (Seibu 36GP 8G+10A=18P). Though this alone won’t keep the Sharks up with the newly powerful Bucks, it is a step in the right direction (Prpic is a Japan/Asia vet that knows the league well with a long and successful career, and Ishioka won’t count as an import because Japan/Korea/China nationals do not count against imports in this league). (Thanks Martin!)

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

    Asia League player movement

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 June 7日 Sunday

    A few of the former Seibu Prince Rabbits players have found new homes this offseason after the team was shut down by its parent company Seibu Holdings. All these players so far are national team players.

    Yosuke Kon, Sho Sato (both forwards) to Oji Eagles, joining former Seibu/Kokudo player Kei Tonosaki on the team.

    Daisuke Obara (forward) to Nippon Paper Cranes, he’ll wear #76 with the Cranes, joining former Seibu/Kokudo forward Chris Yule on the team.

    In addition, productive Nikko Ice Bucks defenceman Takyuki Ono (one of the three on the team to notch over 1o points last season) has signed with Korean powerhouse Anyang Halla (Japanese, Korean, and Chinese players do not count as imports in the Asia League).

    The word is still out on the rest of the Rabbits squad (about half are expected to take up regular jobs within the Seibu Group), and of a possible new club team being founded at Higashifushimi, the former home of the Seibu/Kokudo teams, the chances are slim to nil as there is clear lack of a big time financial backer. And there’s still no word yet on how the new entrant in the league, Tohoku Free Blades, are doing to bolster their currently barebones lineup in preparation for their inaugural Asia League season in 2009-10.

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

    2008-09 AL Season Review

    Posted by japanstats 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 »

    2009 All Japan Championship details

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 April 8日 Wednesday

    Not all of them but here they are. 

    Thu 12 Feb. Round 3
    Tomakomai-Komazawa U 7 – 1 Vanguards (Higashifushimi)
    Kansai U 3 – 0 Toyota Hokkaido Centuries (Higashifushimi)
    Waseda U 3 – 1 Hachinohe Kodai1 High School (Shin-Yokohama)
    Meiji U 6 – 1 Tomakomai City Hall (Shin-Yokohama)

    Fri 13 Feb. Quarterfinals
    Seibu Prince Rabbits 7 – 0 Tomakomai-Komazawa U (Higashifushimi)
    Kansai U 0 – 2 HC Nikko Ice Bucks (Higashifushimi)
    Oji Eagles 6 – 2 Waseda U (Shin-Yokohama)
    Meiji U 2 – 4 Nippon Paper Cranes (Shin-Yokohama)

    Sat 14 Feb. Semifinals
    Seibu Prince Rabbits 5 – 4 HC Nikko Ice Bucks (Higashifushimi)
    Oji Eagles 2 – 4 Nippon Paper Cranes (Higashifushimi)

    Sun 15 Feb. Finals/Bronze game
    Bronze: HC Nikko Ice Bucks 2 – 5 Oji Eagles (Higashifushimi)
    Finals: Seibu Prince Rabbits 6 (1-0, 2-4, 3-1) 5 Nippon Paper Cranes (Higashifushimi)

    Scoring:

    Seibu 18:02 Ishioka
    Cranes 27:45 Haratake
    Seibu 30:33 Tanaka
    Seibu 30:43 Prpic
    Cranes 30:59 M. Ito
    Cranes 32:42 Nishiwaki
    Cranes 38:37 Iimura
    Cranes 45:49 Mitani
    Seibu 47:46 Suzuki
    Seibu 52:03 Obara
    Seibu 57:09 Prpic
    —————-

    Tournament MVP: Go Tanaka F (Seibu)

    This year, all quarterfinalists who got to play the Asia League teams were university teams. On the way to the quarters, the uni teams beat a couple of senior amateur teams (Toyota and Tomakomai City Hall) and a high school team from Hachinohe! The high school team beat a Hokkaido senior amateur squad Tadano to get to the quarters, though the high schoolers were seeded above a couple of senior amateur teams. It all concluded with an exciting high scoring final that saw the teams trading leads, and Joel Prpic cashing in with the championship winner with less than 3 minutes remaining in regulation.

    Here’s the full results (the JIHF tournament page) in Japanese:
    http://www.jihf.or.jp/jihf/data/schedule.php?id=160

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

    Seibu oldtimers game and AL’s future

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 April 3日 Friday

    On 28 March 2009, as part of the Seibu Prince Rabbits fan appreciation day, there was a Seibu Railways (Polar Bears) – Kokudo (Bunnies) oldtimers game (Seibu Prince Rabbits are a result of the merger between Seibu Railways and Kokudo teams, both owned by the Seibu Group, in 2003. In fact, the Seibu Railway team split into Kokudo in 1972, shortly after the club was formed in 1966, a now jailed Tsutsumi CEO project, he was a huge hockey fan who even took Daisuke Matsuzaka to a Seibu hockey game shortly after he was drafted to the Lions).

    Here are some great photos and story (Japanese) from the oldtimers game. The advert-less unis look wonderful, as the old rivals squared off for one last time. There were 44 Seibu oldtimers and 29 Kokudo seniors. Seibu had a ringer in current Nikko IceBuck Hideji Tsuchida (sorta like Mark Messier in the Canadiens v Oilers oldtimers superstars match while he was still an active Ranger). The oldtimers game ended in a fitting 5-5 tie.

    Apparently more than 20 companies made inquiries about taking the Rabbits off Seibu’s hands, but the 5-oku (~$5m) operating cost and average attendance of 1,000 was the deal breaker (in the 70s(?) hockey was able to draw crowds of 10,000 at Yoyogi Arena). Though I doubt that any of the discussions went too deep, because it’s possible to run an Asia League hockey club on less than half that budget, like the Nikko IceBucks are doing. Something tells me that Seibu wanted to get rid of its hockey arm, as part of eliminating the Tsutsumi colours, what with the former group president being convicted for large scale fraud. (And I suspect that’s the similar reasoning behind the Saitama Seibu Lions moving away from the sky blue and Osamu Tezuka Leo logo towards almost-black navy and the weird lion palm and baseball logo, though the faux-Detroit Tigers unis are classy.)

    Here’s the official statement from the AL Chairman about Seibu folding. The one positive is that he mentions that the league is rather positive about accepting new teams into the now 6 team league (same size as the old Japanese Ice Hockey League). This is good news for the Tohoku Free Blades who have an exhibition game against the Oji Eagles  on 5 April at 13:00 at the Bandai Atami Ice Arena in Koriyama, Fukushima (one of the Blades’ home towns). The Blades have already played an exhibition match against the AL last place team Nikko, so the increasing involvement with AL teams is positive development for the Blades to join the AL. (I’m also hoping that the western Japan powerhouse Surpass Kagawa will eventually join the AL as well, but there are no current rumours.)

    So, there’s a decent chance that the AL will still be a 7 team league next season, despite being weakened by the loss of Seibu (though this opens the door for the Korean and Chinese teams, which is a welcome change). Apparently 12-15 Seibu players have a chance of catching on with another team in Asia or Europe next seasons, others are likely to become regular Seibu Group employees. Though with the lack of funding for the Blades, they look unlikely to be taking on the expensive Seibu players.

    A short Q&A was held with the Seibu hockey club owner (president) Koyama on 31 March when the official team folding was announced. Here’s the abridged version (full version in Japanese here).

    Q: What was the reasoning behind the timing of this press conference?

    A: Each team must submit player transfer/release list by mid-April, hence the timing.

    Q: How will the players be treated going forward?

    A: Individual interviews will be conducted with each player during April. The key question is whether players want to keep on playing hockey or joing the company (Seibu) full-time and start working on regular jobs. We will support the players as much as possible.

    Q: What are the specific plans to support the players?

    A: Players will be able to stay in the team dorm until July. Request has been made to the company so that the (semi-pro) players will be given a 2 year sabbatical from the company to pursue their hockey careers if that is their wish.

    Q: What will happen to company referees and coaches who contribute to the AL?

    A: Immediately pulling them out will cause trouble for the league, so we are in discussion with officials such as the federation for their future. The rink (Higashifushimi) will continue to operate as usual (as the home of the women’s Princess Rabbits team, figure skating, and public skating.)

    Q: What were the reactions inside the company regarding the hockey team folding?

    A: The company itself is undergoing major restructuring, so this issue went rather unnoticed compared to the past.

    Q: How did the discussions go with prospective buyers of the team?

    A: 20 to 25 companies from Tokyo and outside Tokyo expressed interest. They were interested in hockey as a sport, but the average attendance of 1000+ made serious discussion difficult, and ultimately ended in failure.

    Incidentally, 2008-09 average attendance:

    1: Oji Eagles 1498 (all games over 1000)
    2: Seibu Prince Rabbits (attendance boosted after team folding announcement)
    3: Nippon Paper Cranes 1211
    4: Anyang Halla 1052
    5: Nikko IceBucks 1013 (used to have over 4000 supporters when the club first formed 10 years ago)
    6: High1 488 (all tickets are free, but no advertising, sponsor must be loaded)

    7: China Sharks (many comp tickets given out, attracting thousands of fans at some games, hopefully they gained some traction in the Shanghai student town.) 

    Posted in 02_English, 03_Translations (英訳ポートフォリオ), Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, Japan, opinion, press releases, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Cranes Win! Seibu goes into history

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 March 26日 Thursday

    Monday 23 March 2009, Higashifushimi, Tokyo.

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    Game 7 of the 2009 Asia League Ice Hockey Finals. The full house witnessed history.

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    This was going to be the final game for the Seibu Prince Rabbits (formerly Kokudo and Seibu Railway hockey teams) no matter the team won or lost against the Nippon Paper Cranes. The two teams have been waging an epic battle for the championship with Seibu coming back from being down 1-3 in the series to force the deciding game.

    In fact, the Cranes themselves came back from being down 2-3 in their semifinals against Anyang Halla of Korea to reach the finals, and before that they dispatched the other Korean team in the league, High1, in the play-in round of the playoffs with a 2 game sweep (best of 3). Meanwhile, Seibu swept the semifinals against the Oji Eagles, but all games were decided by a 1 goal margin (excluding the empty netters).

    Game 7 started off quickly, like Game 6, on a Cranes goal as Darcy Mitani opened the game in the 4th minute with a power play tally. But unlike Game 6, the first period did not turn into a wild goalfest, and both teams played solidly, though not without chances.

    Crane (and former Seibu/Kokudo) Chris Yule sitting alone in the Cranes bench after the first period.

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    The Cranes added 2 more goals in the 2nd period and seemingly already wrote the end of the history for the Seibu hockey club. But captain Takahito Suzuki came out huge for Seibu as he scored with 4 seconds left in the period assisted by retiring Kiyoshi Fujita (thanks Ryan! you were the best player in the league for a long time, Theo Fleury of Japan in the best sense, and lots of fun to watch, you’ll be missed) and Daisuke Obara. This was a huge goal as going into the second intermission being 2 goals or 3 goals down makes a massive difference to team morale. 

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    In the third period, Seibu continued to pressure and kept on peppering the Cranes net with shots but Cranes goalie Hisashi Ishikawa totally stood on his head as he saved 54 of 56 shots (!) on net to earn the victory and championship for the Cranes.

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    Congratulations, the 2009 champion Cranes! And thank you Seibu for all the memories! (and hopefully the team will survive in one form or another and elite level hockey will be played in Tokyo next season.)

    Playoff MVP Hisashi Ishikawa who backstopped the Cranes to the championship capped off by his herculean efforts in Game 7. Ishikawa played 14 of the Cranes 16 playoff games, and was a well deserving recepient of the award.

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    Joel Dyck Oshiro holding up the AL Championship trophy properly (that is, sideways)

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    More random photos and videos from the game follows this break:

    Read the rest of this entry »

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