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    Japanese players not (yet) in the ECHL

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 October 21日 Wednesday

    Three Japanese born players tried out for ECHL and IHL teams this season, but none of them made the cut. The economic downturn has also affected minor league pro hockey as several teams in the AHL and ECHL have folded or suspended operations for this season with probably more casualties in the lower leagues. This means that the pro hockey market is overflowing with capable players, and some players are having to play in lower leagues than their skills would normally warrant. Our Japanese challengers seem to have become casualties as well.

    takahashi

    Former Nikko Ice Buck Kazuma Takahashi spent the past 2 seasons with the Utah Grizzlies, and he got an invite to the Stockton Thunder training camp after a successful FAT (Free Agent Training Camp). Despite being productive during he did not make the final cut and the official reason given was his old battle wound from 9 years ago, despite the fact that he played in the ECHL for the past 2 seasons. Luckily he was then invited to the SPHL tryouts, and was signed by the Louisiana IceGators along with Takaaki Ishikawa who just graduated from college and was due to play for the China Sharks of the Asia League before the team changed directions and became the China Dragon.

    takuma

    As for the Kawai brothers, defenceman Ryuichi and forward Takuma, who also went through a successful FAT and then were trying out for the IHL Bloomington PrairieThunder, they were both attractive players who played well during the tryout (their words) but they were cut because of lack of visas. Now, I thought teams were supposed to provide the visas once they signed the players, not the other way around. But the Kawai brothers are now back in Japan and are waiting for their US work permits to be issued. In the meantime, the expansion AL team Tohoku Free Blades have picked them up and they will definitely upgrade the upstart team. Their contracts with the Blades are supposed to be temporary until they head back to the States, but who knows what will happen.

    ryuichi

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

    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!

    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 »

    Free Blades roster set!

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 August 22日 Saturday

    The new entry into the Asia League for the upcoming 2009-10 season, the Tohoku Free Blades, have finally signed enough players to form a complete roster. The new players should significantly improve the team and hopefully not make them a yearlong doormat in their expansion season (since the China Sharks don’t have Wade Flaherty anymore, there’s hope).

    New players:

    F Akiyumi Okuyama 31GP 1G+1A=2P (Oji)

    F Masahito Suzuki 34GP 4+11=15 (Oji)

    F Bin Ishioka 36GP 8+10=18 (Seibu) – Bin’s move to China turned out to be just an unconfirmed rumour

    D Kazumoto Imajo (Chuo University captain – was supposed to join the now defunct Seibu Prince Rabbits)

    D Steve Munn (AHL/ECHL)

    D Brad Farynuk (AHL/ECHL)

    LW Bruce Mulherin (EIHL/ECHL)

    LW Jon Smyth (Bundesliga 2nd Division)

    All 4 imports are Canadian.

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

    High1 2009-10

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 August 17日 Monday

    High1 has announced their new additions to the team for the 2009-10 season. The team has kept one import in Alex Kim (15G+21A=36P, 13th in the league) but has made a wholesale change on the rest of their import lineup.

    Returning to the team after a season in Europe is Tim Smith, he rocked the league with his brother Bud for 2 seasons from 2006-08 (63GP 106P). Joining Tim as the new imports are veteran centre Trevor Gallant and young defenceman Jeremy Van Hoof.

    The team is also undergoing a major uphaul with many veterans leaving the team and 5 Korean rookies entering the fray. Also joining the club are stranded Seibu Prince Rabbits defenceman Yuya Yamada (25GP 3A) and rookie forward Hiroki Ueno (24GP 16+14=30 at Waseda University) who had signed on to play for Seibu but had the misfortune of the team folding before he ever wore their sweater.

    It’ll be intersting to see how this new, younger version of High1 will fare in the upcoming season, though with top dog Seibu gone, the team should see its fortunes improve from the 5th place finish (13-4-19) and first round elimination from the playoffs it suffered this season.

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

    Free Blades sign two players and open camp

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 August 4日 Tuesday

    The Tohoku Free Blades have finally officially signed new players to bring their player count up to 16 (still far short of the minimum 23 player roster for the Asia League).

    Starting goalie will be ex-Ice Buck Michio Hashimoto, the 32 year old veteran will keep the new team respectable, and he is a product of the local Hachinohe hockey scene. Hashimoto appeared in 32 games for the Bucks last season and posted an 89.7% save percentage.

    Blades have also signed Yoshikazu Kashino from the defunct Seibu Prince Rabbits. Kashino played in 20 games and recorded no points last season.

    The team has opened camp in Hachinohe, Aomori on 3 August.

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, opinion | 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 »

    Bucks acquire 6 Seibu veterans

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 June 28日 Sunday

    The Nikko Ice Bucks of Asia League Ice Hockey has acquired six veterans from the now defunct Seibu Prince Rabbits. The new players include Japanese national team captain Takahito Suzuki, national team goalie Naoya Kikuchi, defencemen Kazuyoshi Yamaguchi, Tomohito Okubo, and Masahiro Kawamura, as well as forward Tomohiko Uchiyama.

    This basically gives the Bucks an entirely new and capable first set with a national team goalie and makes them instant playoff contenders instead of fighting to escape the cellar with the China Sharks. No word on what the new players will get paid but they are likely taking a significant pay cut as the Bucks operate at about 2-oku yen ($2m) budget while Seibu ran with about 5-oku ($5m).

    All the newcomers are 29 or older, so the Bucks will be looking for immediate results. Suzuki had received offers from other teams, but settled with the Bucks who are coached by his childhood friend and former Toyo University teammate Tadahiro Murai. Okubo and Yamaguchi had previous stints with the Bucks, four and six years ago, respectively. All but Okubo have national team experience, this instantly increases the number of national team players on the Bucks from zero to five.

    2008-09 regular season stats

    Suzuki 36GP, 16G+29A=45P (6th, 4th, and 4th in the league)

    Uchiyama 36, 7+8=15

    Okubo 36, 4+18=22 (expect this offensive defenceman to quarterback the powerplay)

    Yamaguchi 35, 1+2=3

    Kawamura 22, 4+9=13

    Kikuchi 32GP, 90.5 SV%, 2.85GAA

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, International, Japan, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

    Go Tanaka to Germany

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 June 27日 Saturday

    Japanese national team and former Seibu Prince Rabbit forward Go Tanaka has signed a one year contract with ESV Kaufbeuren (his picture’s already on the team roster page), a team that apparently just got promoted to Bundesliga 2nd division. Since this is only one level removed from the DEL, an elite European league, Tanaka figures to be closer to elite level play than Yutaka Fukufuji who has just signed to play in the Netherlands. Look for both players to represent Japan in the IIHF World Championships next year though.

    tanaka

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

    Serious Seibu Scrimmage

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 June 8日 Monday

    The former members of the now defunct Seibu Prince Rabbits (formerly Kokudo and Seibu Railway ice hockey teams) will face off in an apparently all out scrimmage as a final farewell to Higashifushimi, Tokyo, the teams’ long time home ice. 

    Date: Tuesday 9 June 2009

    Time: 10:00 – 11:30

    Where: Dydo Drinco Ice Arena, Higashifushimi, Tokyo

    Admission: Free

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