First ever Japanese NHL player and ECHL Bakersfield Condors goalie Yutaka Fukufuji has hinted on his blog that he’s looking outside America for a team to play next season. With his former Asia League team Kokudo/Seibu team folded, I’m not sure whether he means a return to Japan (the newly formed Tohoku Free Blades? Very unlikely), move to Europe (ECHL goalie would translate to second division in an elite nation?), or maybe he’s just yanking our chain and is looking into Canada 😛
Posts Tagged ‘Kokudo’
Posted by simon c on 2009 May 24日 Sunday
Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, ECHL, hockey, information, Japan, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: bakersfield, condors, free blades, Fukufuji, goalie, kings, Kokudo, LA, los angeles, prince rabbits, seibu, tohoku, yutaka | 2 Comments »
Posted by simon c 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: AL, Anyang Halla, budget, bunnies, business, china, cranes, eagles, economy, finance, free blades, High1, icebucks, Kokudo, korea, nikko, nippon paper, Oji, polar bears, prince rabbits, seibu, seibu railway, sharks, tohoku | Leave a Comment »
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: alumni, anabuki, china, cranes, eagles, eri, finland, free blades, goalie, High1, Ice Bucks, icebucks, kagawa, kiribuchi, Kokudo, miki, nikko, nippon paper, Oji, playoff, playoffs, prince rabbits, railway, seibu, slovakia, surpass, tohoku, universiade | Leave a Comment »
Posted by simon c on 2008 December 27日 Saturday
A couple of Seibu uniform announcements for both their baseball and hockey teams.
First the Saitama Seibu Lions baseball team is apparently completely overhauling its uniform next season with new colours, logo, and uniforms. This may or may not be their primary logo, colour, and uniform, but this photo was taken at Tokorozawa station (home of Lions) but before a public announcement. Weird, but Seibu has never been good at marketing. Personally, moving away from the Tezuka Osamu designed Leo logo to a generic claws and baseball logo is a huge mistake, along with darkening the skyblue that has been the Lions colour since the team moved to Tokorozawa some 30 years ago, the new navy makes them similar to Chunichi Dragons, Tokyo Yakult Swallows, and Yokohama BayStars. Then again, I suppose this move in the new direction is probably meant to signal their new attachment to their hometown “Saitama”, but just seems like a bad move right after winning it all (Japan Series and Asia Series champions).
Now onto the Seibu Prince Rabbits hockey team that has just announced that they will be folding (or hopefully selling) the team after this season. The team will play in throwback Seibu Railway (Seibu Railway and Kokudo teams merged to form the current Seibu team a few years back) uniforms. The ads take away from the mood, but a classy move nonetheless as it’s a classic uni that I should’ve bought while the Railway team was still alive. The throwbacks will be worn in the game on 11 January 2009 against long time archrivals Oji Eagles at the Dydo Drinco Ice Arena home game (Higashifushimi, Tokyo). The ceremonial faceoff will be taken by the brothers Mel and Herb Wakabayashi who led Japanese hockey through the 70’s and beyond as player and coach on Kokudo, Seibu, and the Japanese national team.
By the way, Seibu wore this uniform for a while after the SEIBU era:
Either way, much better than the Kokudo bunny donchya think?
I used to be a fun of the rough and exciting Seibu Railway team, but could never support the team after it was merged into Kokudo even though many of my favourite players like Ryan Kiyoshi Fujita (the Theo Fleury of Japan, he led the Japanese league in PIM and goals once or twice, I think) play on the team. Just for good measure, here’s Ryan who’s been playing in Japan since 1995 and played on the 1998 Nagano Olympic team:
Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, baseball, hockey, information, NPB, olympics, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: asia series, bears, blue, bunnies, color, colour, fujita, japan series, Kokudo, lions, logo, raiway, saitama, seibu, swallows, uniform, yakult | 2 Comments »
Posted by simon c on 2008 December 19日 Friday
Seibu Prince Rabbits, the perennial powerhouse team in the Asia League Ice Hockey (and also separately as Seibu and Kokudo in the Japan Ice Hockey League before their merger) will effectively cease team operations following the current 2008-09 season due to the termination of funding from the main sponsor Prince Hotel Group (a Seibu Holdings company). This announcement was made to the players from the team owner on 18 January.
Head coach Chris Wakabayashi was in tears after the announcement, captain Takahito Suzuki was in shock and said “I can’t believe this right now. The most important thing at the moment is to finish the season, but this will be very difficult for (Japanese and Asian) ice hockey.”
The current economic climate also aided in this decision by the parent company to stop funding the team, which is said to cost about JPY 500 million (~ US$4.5 million) per season (equivalent to the salary for a couple of Saitama Seibu Lions star baseball players…). There is a possibility that the Seibu team will continue to exist as a club team (like how Yukijirushi (Snow Brand) became Sapporo Polaris for a season, and how Furukawa became the Nikko IceBucks as the parent companies ceased to fund these teams), but with the lack of fan base and community support, this seems like a rather unlikely scenario for Seibu, and Tokyo area hockey fans will lose their only source of watching live high level hockey. The Asia League should continue to exist in the current 7 team form next season, as the Tohoku Free Blades based in northeastern Honshu should be entering the league, barring any more unexpected team foldings.)
On the same day, the much larger American Football X-League’s Onward Skylarks also announced that they will not be participating in the upcoming season as the team has effectively folded as well.
Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, baseball, hockey, information, Japan, NPB, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: business, economy, finance, football, Kokudo, lions, prince rabbits, railway, saitama, seibu, x-league | 3 Comments »
Posted by simon c on 2008 May 17日 Saturday
An interesting article about a minor sport in a major country, baseball in France. It kinda mirrors ice hockey in Japan where the sport’s development was largely driven by one man (now jailed Tsutsumi who supported the sport nationally through the Seibu-Kokudo group companies, otherwise hockey would’ve been still confined in Hokkaido which is very Canadian in climate). (Via Dodger Thoughts)
Completed in 1995, practically in the center of town, the field was the country’s first artificial turf park and instantly became coveted by baseball clubs everywhere. It also was used for national championships and international competitions between high schools from all over Europe, and for soccer and other sports by local schools. Over the years it also helped increase, if only slightly, local interest in baseball and inspired legends such as Frederic Hanvi.
Hanvi started playing in Montigny when he was 6, and last year as an 18-year-old became the second Frenchman selected in a Major League Baseball draft after he was recruited as a catcher (called a “receiver” here) by the Minnesota Twins. (The first was Joris Bert, an outfielder drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers and now with one of their minor league teams.)
Christophe Herard, president of the Montigny baseball club, talks proudly about Hanvi, noting that his parents and friends eagerly watch his career. He is finishing school in France before he heads off in June for training in Florida.
“The [American recruiters] were placing a kind of bet on him,” Herard says. “The road is still very long and tough . . . but we are going to follow him in Montigny.”
But baseball remains a marginal sport in Montigny. Last year the town’s gymnastics club was the most popular, with 1,100 members, followed by soccer with 850. With just 160 members, the Montigny baseball club may be one of the largest in France, but it’s still smaller here than fishing and badminton.
Even when the championships for the top-level teams (equivalent to Class-A baseball in the U.S.) were played in Montigny, they drew only 100 people to the 230-seat stands.
Posted by simon c on 2008 January 10日 Thursday
Former Asia Leaguer with Kokudo, and the first Japanese born and trained NHL player (though he was called up by the Kings last season because LaBarbera who dominated the AHL would not have cleared waivers under the new CBA when getting called back up) Yutaka Fukufuji got into a goalie fight (probably had no choice what with everyone on the ice going at it) in an ECHL game where he plays for the Bakersfield Condors. He seemed to have fared poorly, not being used to hockey fights at all. But upon closer inspection, he does land the final right and takes down the other goalie. He also hams it up for the crowd for good measure 🙂