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    Asia League 2009-10 Preview

    Posted by simon c 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!

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

    Halla – High1 season opener moved up

    Posted by simon c on 2009 September 1日 Tuesday

    The season opening 2 game series at Anyang between Halla and High1 on 19 and 20 September has been moved up to 15:00 for live television broadcast purposes. So, if anyone’s attending the season opener, please be aware, and have fun!

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

    Asia League player movement

    Posted by simon c 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 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.

    sp2241251

    sp2241252

    sp2241253

    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 »

    Claude Lemieux in China

    Posted by simon c on 2008 November 17日 Monday

    Claude Lemieux, who had been working out in Arizona to prepare for an NHL comeback attempt, was somehow convinced to play hockey in Asia with the China Sharks. The move happened quickly and he has already suited up for the Chinese team against Anyang Halla in the Asia League games this past weekend and recorded his first point with an assist in the Sunday game

    I’m definitely going to go see their games against Seibu next weekend in Tokyo! Wade Flaherty is keeping the Sharks in many many games that they have no business being in either, but they’re falling just short of earning points. A legendary agitator making a comeback from retirement, this reminds me of Esa Tikkanen’s years with Anyang Halla.

    Shanghai’s far away from the NHL and this comment he made just recently:
    “I’m not doing this just to play one game in the NHL and that’s it. I really think I can still help a team make the playoffs, and into the playoffs,” he told the Post. “It would sure be nice to get that fifth Stanley Cup.

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

    63rd All-Korea Ice Hockey Championships Finals

    Posted by simon c on 2008 November 10日 Monday

    The 63rd All-Korea Ice Hockey Championship concluded in Seoul last week with the semifinals and the final after playing its group round the previous week.

    Semifinals (2008.11.6)

    14:30 High1 4 (0-0, 3-3, 1-0) 3 Korea U

    17:30 Anyang Halla 3 (0-0, 3-2, 0-0) 2 Yonsei U

    Both university teams gave the pros a run for their money, but the pros managed to squeak into the finals to face each other the very next day.

    Final (2008.11.7)

    18:00 High1 3 (0-0, 1-0, 2-0) 0 Anyang Halla

    35:42 High1 Brent Gauvrearu (Ryan Haruo Kuwabara) +1
    41:30 High1 Ryan Haruo Kuwabara (Tae-An Kwon) EQ
    56:15 High1 Ryan Haruo Kuwabara (Chi-Young Benedict Song, Brent Gauvreau) +1

    High1 took home its 3rd straight All-Korea title.

    Individual awards

    MVP: Hyun-Seung Eum (High1 G)

    VP: Ho-Seung Son (Anyang Halla G)

    Fine Play: 조민호 (Korea University) and 정병천 (Yonsei University)

    Most Points: Chi-Young Benedict Song and Ryan Haruo Kuwabara (both High1 F)

    Best Coach: Hee-Woo Kim (High1)

    Best Referee: 이병철

    (I studied Korean for a bit, but I was no good at it, so I’m not going to transliterate the transliteration of Korean names into Japanese.)

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

    All-Korea Championship after Group Play

    Posted by simon c on 2008 October 31日 Friday

    63rd All-Korea Ice Hockey Championships

    Day 3 (10.30)

    High1 2 (1-0, 0-1, 1-0) 1 Yonsei U

    Anyang Halla 3 (1-1, 0-0, 2-0) 1 Korea U

    The two best college hockey teams gave the pro sides scares as both games were tied heading into their 3rd period. And Halla’s 3rd goal seems to be an empty netter, so essentially the two pro clubs barely managed 1 goal wins over university teams. The pro sides are allowed to dress imports for this championship, and by looking at the goal scorers, it seems like these games were played with full squads (though maybe not at full effort).

    Anyways, standings after the group stage:

    Group A: High1 (2-0), Yonsei U (1-1), Hanyang U (0-2)

    Group B: Anyang Halla (2-0), Korea U (1-1), Kyunghee U (0-2)

    Semifinals:

    11.6 14:30 High1 – Korea U / 17:30 Anyang Halla – Yonsei U

    Finals is on the next day.

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

    All-Korea Championships after Day 2

    Posted by simon c on 2008 October 30日 Thursday

    63rd All-Korea Ice Hockey Championships

    Day 1 (10/28)

    14:30 Hanyang U 0 (0-2, 0-2, 0-0) 4 High1

    17:30 Kyunghee U 2 (1-0, 1-3, 0-4) 7 Anyang Halla

    Kyunghee took the lead in the 13th minute, held onto it to the end of the period. Then after having the game tied up at 27:43, they came right back to retake the lead at 28:59, but then just got pummelled by the pro side Halla.

    Day 2 (10/29)

    14:30 Yonsei U 7 (3-0, 2-1, 2-0) 1 Hanyang U

    17:30 Korea U 4 (1-0, 1-0, 2-0) 0 Kyunghee U
    Standings after Day 2
    Group A: Yonsei U (1-0), High1 (1-0), Hanyang U (0-2)
    Group B: Anyang Halla (1-0), Korea U (1-0), Kyunghee U (0-2)
    Although the schedule is unfavourable, it’ll be interesting to see how the stronger university teams, Yonsei U and Korea U do against the pro clubs on the 3rd and final day of group play today.

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

    Hikari TV to broadcast AL games

    Posted by simon c on 2008 October 30日 Thursday

    Hikari TV (a fibreoptic internet TV service) will start broadcasting AL games. As a preview of the service, they have a nice stream of the Seibu-Halla game highlights from 5 Oct 2008.

    This is good news as any additional exposure is good for the fledgling league.

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