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.