So, ex-NHLers Jamie McLennan and Tyson Nash, who are good friends, joined the Nippon Paper Cranes of the AL. For Jamie to finish off his career in an interesting land halfway around the world, for both of them to experience Japan and East Asia, for the different culture and hockey style and hopefully bring back the AL championship trophy to Kushiro again.
McLennan has been very solid in the regular season since joining the team halfway through the season. Posting 92.05 Save % (good enough for 1st in the league among goalies who faced over 100 shots) and 2.50 GAA in 14 games (it’s a 30 game regular season, but there’s also an open FA Cup style knockoff championship, and national team players compete in international tournaments during IIHF international breaks. And of course, there’s the playoffs too, so the season’s longer than 30 games, much longer for some players, though nowhere near the unnecessarily grueling 100 game NHL schedule if you count the playoffs.) Tyson Nash injured his knee right away, so he only got into 5 games and scored 1 goal and 16 PIM while still getting accustomed to the less physical play of the league.
These two are a definite improvement upon the cheap imports that the Cranes started the season with (perhaps being perennial champions or finalists made them overconfident?) and can definitely be a force in the upcoming playoffs which follow the disappointing regular season by the Cranes.
What I didn’t know was that both Jamie and Tyson have online presence (I guess this shouldn’t be such a surprise these days) and are chronicling their journey through Japan and Asian hockey. These two guys seem easy going, if not a little too rambunctious for the ordinarily reserved Japanese (when not drunk), but it looks like they’re fully enjoying their life in countryside Hokkaido. And this provides a nice contrast to the infamous Ballads of Jason Johnson, a pro baseball player. Perhaps “hockey players are the most down to earth big money pro athletes” isn’t just Canadian propaganda 😛 After all, McLennan, Nash, and Johnson were never star players in the big leagues.
Some interesting snippets of Jamie’s blog (some to The Hockey News no less) and other articles.
From his first article to THN:
I was going to retire this summer and pursue other interests in hockey when I received offers in Europe and Russia. I took an offer in Russia and was there for six weeks when I decided that it wasn’t for me and we parted ways (another long story but not for this article).
Taking some time off was what I was doing when I was approached by my best buddy from growing up, Joel Dyck, who has been playing in Japan for 14 years and he told me I should come and play with him on his team to have a little fun and finish our careers together.
So, Jamie was in Russia but things didn’t work out for him there (can’t find his Russian stats at eurohockey.net).
And he’s long time friends with Japan and Asia League veteran and erstwhile Japanese national team player Joel Oshiro Dyck (he’s part Japanese descent who obtained Japanese passport a while back) from their junior days in Alberta. So, this was why McLennan and Nash came over as midseason replacement imports to the Cranes. Imports that come to play in Asia always arrive via the Asian-North American or Asian-European hockey pipelines.
From an Ottawa Citizen article via tysonnash.com:
“Five minutes before the games, the entire building is dead silent. No one says a word. Then we come on the ice and they go crazy. There are no anthems. We just bow to each side of the stands, then, after the game, we do it again. But the fans seem to really love the game.”
McLennan says the level of hockey is surprisingly good, somewhere between the East Coast Hockey League and the American Hockey League. He doesn’t want to say what he’s getting paid, but I’m told it is in the neighborhood of $200,000 a year, and the team takes care of all his expenses.
Anthems aren’t played for domestic matches, but that’s just a minor detail. Interesting that he notices this though.
The comment about the level of play is valuable, as it is a good measuring stick (along with statistics). Though, AL probably shares the same lack of depth problem as NPB. The top players may be near AHL level (many Japanese players have succeeded in the ECHL), but the third and fourth line guys probably won’t even make an ECHL roster. The money’s interesting too, as it’s not public information. I heard somewhere that Prpic is getting about $300,000. This is better than what these players can earn in most of Europe (maybe except for Russia, and Switzerland?).
“It has been a wild experience,” McLennan says from his hotel room in Sapporo, where he has just made 26 saves in a 5-1 Paper Cranes victory against the Oji Ice Hockey Team (That’s their real nickname by the way: “Ice Hockey Team.” Did they hold a “Name the Team” contest to come up with that? Why not the Oji Whiz? The Oji Simpsons? The Oji Wan-kenobis? Work with me, people.)
Everyone seems to get this wrong, but “Nippon Paper” is the company and the team name is the “Cranes”. Though, the paper cranes wordplay may have been involved when deciding on the nickname. And Oji really needs to be called the Eagles. Heck, one of their uniforms already features the eagle mascot (their other more traditional uni is a Habs tribute bleu, blanc, et rouge).
From Jamie’s blog entry about the China road trip:
Joel was a master of negotiation when it came to the market and we sat back and let him work his magic. By the end of the day, the locals were none too happy with us [mostly him] as we held out for bargain basement prices and were able to come away with a few souvenirs for ridiculously cheap prices.
Hahaha, I never knew Joel was a shrewd negotiator. In fact, he’s one of the more quiet Japanese-Canadian guys on and off the ice, from what I can tell by going to games and his (lack of) media exposure.
When it came to the games we won the first one and completely stunk the joint out the second one, I think the guys just took them too lightly the second game, but needless to say we lost the second game in the last minute. I did not play in either game because I hurt my hip flexor in the previous game, so I unfortunately just watched and toured the city. Overall though, a great experience.
The Cranes only took 16 skaters to Beijing and McLennan was resting, so it’s obvious that the team took the Sharks way too lightly. I guess this could be one promising thing about the disastrous Sharks season, they’re not complete roll overs (even with just 3 wins in 30 games this season).
Anyways, here’s the totally non-pimped up ride that Nash picked up for the two of them to drive around Kushiro. From McLennan’s blog entries, it seems like Nash is the rather pragmatic one in a foreign land.
Good luck in the playoffs Jamie and Tyson! (Though they face Halla, and Korean teams advancing further in the playoffs makes Asian hockey as a whole more interesting too…)