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    チャイナ・シャークスGMとのインタビュー

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 October 6日 Tuesday

    サンノゼ・シャークスのファンサイト、Sharks Site によるチャイナ・シャークスのChris Collins 元GMとのインタビューです。シャークスの長期的目標はチームとリーグをもっとプロ化させる事で、各連盟の影響を無くしてビジネスモデルとしてアジアリーグとシャークスを成功させる事だったそうです(現状から考えると夢物語みたいですね)。その為には、短期的にはシャークスは外国人選手に頼り(今季のチーム構成は中国人7人、元NHL選手5人-エンディコットとパーピック含む-と残りは日本人選手になる予定だったそうです)、中国人選手育成の為のファームチームを作り年間75-95試合を韓国、日本と北朝鮮のアマチュアチームと試合を組ませる予定だったそうです(合理的に見えますが、スポーツ省の権力者は自分の選手をトップチームに入れたかったそうです、ボロ負けする事になっても)。あとリーグの為にはオフィシャルの質の向上も欠かせなかったと言っています、今はレベルが低すぎると。NYアイランダーズのオーナーCharles Wang 氏が中国北部で行っている、ユース・プレーヤー向けのProject Hope との連携は全く無かったのは残念です。Collins 氏はまた条件が揃えばシャークスは中国へ戻れると語っていますが、スポーツ省の現状を読む限り、両者の思惑が一致するのは難しそうです。アムールとバイキングスに続き、アジアリーグはまた残念なパートナーを無くしました。

    [Q] Can you tell me about the San Jose Sharks ending their affiliation with the China Sharks this summer, a team which has been renamed the China Dragons?

    [CC] In China, nothing is as it ever seems! We proposed a plan for total Chinese solvency financially and on the ice at the development and Asian League level. The Chinese ice hockey Association and its Jr. ministers in charge wanted things to remain ‘status quo’ which we deemed unacceptable. In the end I gave Greg Jamison and Mike Lehr, my two supervisors and partners, the opinion that we should not go forward in the Asian League with the Chinese until the Chinese Ice Hockey Association and its operatives were removed from our partnership. The (China Sharks) and the Asian League were asked by us NOT to use any of our “marks”.

    [Q] Is there still a relationship between the Sharks and the Chinese Ice Hockey Association, and moving forward does the San Jose Sharks organization have future plans for China in general or the ALIH specifically?

    [CC] There is a fabulous relationship between the Sr. Director of the CIHA, Mr. Zhou and SVSE as we look forward to working with them in the future. Our main goals now are developing coaches, players and on/off ice officials with Sr. officials in the Minister of Sports office in China. This level is going to affect change in China and help our work and expertise reach the people as opposed to any game playing at the lower levels we’ve tried to avoid.

    [Q] I have read hockey is historically popular in certain regions of China. In what parts of the country was hockey already played? How did the Sharks work to increase the development of new players? How quickly did Chinese fans or the Chinese media adapt to a new team and a new sport being played in such an urban location? How was that reception compared to other teams in Japan or Korea?

    [CC] Hockey in China is well known despite the results under the current regime of the CIHA. Hockey is mainly popular in the North mostly because of the influence of the Russian border. The sport with the influx of rinks nationwide is growing in unconventional areas weather-wise as the South and West will see rapid growth in the game in the near future. This is vital to the games survival if for no other reason than to get the game away from the grips of the same old “dinosaurs” in the north of China who have taken the game the wrong direction while using it as a game where development of coaches, players and officials (was non-professional).

    The Chinese media covered our team and results because the team is incorrectly classified and created as the official ‘National Team’ of China for financial reasons that has no benefit for people like us or those who play the sport. Because the players level was so poor due to bad development and bad coaching and training, the Chinese media were and are ‘brutal’ towards the sport, especially the Men’s team.

    This season we were only going forward in the Asian League in a commercially run team where the Jr. ministers and their local (associates) would have no say or affect on any players we picked, trained, paid and developed. Of course the CIHA was vehemently against this proposal as it basically boxed and blocked any influence they would have, so our investment in China of developing coaches, players and officials would be expedited two-fold.

    You must understand that the rules in creating the team are set for Jr. ministers and their buddies to keep everyone happy by selecting teams that their (associates) ask them to pick. Of course for one season we did not allow this and the team was more successful than it had ever been. This created chaos for the very few ‘obstructionist’ in the local northern region, as the game was changed and those responsible for the destruction of the Chinese so called ‘product’ were left out in the cold. Their players of choice who have led China to the B division of group 2 at the WC, and have led the country to be the laughing stock of international hockey were all told by me and my coaches ‘thanks but no thanks’ as we were rebuilding the team from top to bottom.

    The crowds in Songjiang where we played last season (about 35 minutes outside Shanghai with no traffic) were good as we averaged just over 3000 per game. Mostly college kids and young families as they were loyal and vocal about the Sharks! Sadly this season they’ve lost their first 6 games in a hapless situation where on average 350 people have been let in free to watch this… collection of kids being led down a path of more failure.

    Chinese (fans) are obviously not very kind to the Japanese teams as a whole and maybe like the South Koreans a bit more. Other sports mainly feed this rivalry like soccer, table tennis, badminton, volleyball and basketball.

    [Q] In an interview, Claude Lemieux mentioned a few thousand fans in attendance during one of the games in China. How was the turnout and the atmosphere during the China Sharks first season? Which was the toughest building to play in?

    [CC] Atmosphere in the building was great. There are plenty of YouTube clips from fans at home games last season in Songjiang as we enjoyed our time there and the community.

    God Bless Claude and his family for letting him come over as he was and is great. He is one of the best people I’ve ever known as he is the consummate professional, and like Mac and Flats gave our team and league a sense of being. I will forever be indebted to my friend Claude as should all hockey people as the game needs more talent and character like Claude.

    The toughest building for the China Sharks to play in was Anyang, home of the Halla team in South Korea. They seemed to be the only team who prepared as if the NHL Sharks were on the ice (laugh). We liked our partners in the AL as we hope to be back soon under a completely separate structure than what is currently in place and unacceptable to us an ownership group.

    [Q] The San Jose Sharks brought a few China Sharks forwards to Oakland Ice for an offseason hockey clinic. San Jose also brought several foreign-born players to China to help solidify the lineup, including player/coach and former San Jose goaltender Wade Flaherty, and 6-foot-7 defenseman/coach Steve McKenna. How difficult was the process of bringing in foreign-born imports to China and the ALIH? Flaherty was named the best goaltender in the league last year, former Stockton Thunder forward Brock Radunske lead the league in goals (29) and points (57), and Jason Beeman lead the China Sharks with 15 goals. How much of an impact of did foreign-born players have on the ice and in the development of the ALIH players elsewhere and in China? Were there any other players that you contacted, or that contacted you, about playing in China or the ALIH?

    [CC] Many ex-NHLers I know want to come to China as the numbers this past off season were very high as we would have been a favorite to win the AL had we gone forward. My plan was two stage: One was to field a development team playing 75-95 games while playing exhibition schedules all season against AL teams and Asian hockey colleges in Japan and South and North Korea. This team would have been 99% Chinese. The AL team would have been 7 Chinese tops with the other 13 players half import and half Japanese. Because of the Sharks name, and because of the exoticness of China, acquiring players was not a problem.

    Import players are China right now which is what is wrong with the current people running Chinese men’s hockey. They do not understand the concept of 3 steps back in the long run equals 15 steps forward. Whether its because of financial interests or ignorance is not important, the Chinese men will never grow until a proven researched national strategy, like what we invested millions in, is fully implemented and the troublemakers are pushed aside.

    This season we would have had 5 former NHL players on the China Sharks roster had we proceeded.

    [Q] Steve McKenna might have the most interesting post-NHL career story of any hockey player to date, going from England to Australia to Italy to Korea. Can you describe how he came to the China Sharks? He also mentioned a persepctive shift when he and Flaherty were riding bikes through the University campus on the way to work. Is an open minded and adventurous mindset needed for former North American or European players to enjoy themselves in the ALIH? What are one or two things that a player might have to deal with playing in China that he would not expect prior to coming over?

    [CC] The minute we were announced as taking over the AL franchise, which by the way was never our goal as we came to China to develop players, coaches and officials and still see this as our mission, I targeted Mac as I knew him well. After our first season when we realized how dysfunctional the system currently in place was I called him and said ‘Mac, you must be in China next season’… I think we agreed to a contract on that phone call. The fact Mac is the national team coach of Australia and has won a World Championship at the helm there also fit our needs of playing and assisting Derek.

    YES, players must be open minded and adventurous to live and play in China… (laugh). The bicycles were my idea as I thought it would be great to have these big guys in their suits riding to and from the arena daily in front of hundreds of thousands of college students.

    Communism and its effects on people in a society that is quickly changing into a full fledged democracy in some ways is a major eye opener. It seemed to me that the players got it very well while the Jr. ministers did, but wanted no part of it and its affect on the average person… (laugh). The absolute lack of understanding of the team game is another. How the game of hockey is really coached and taught is another. How people eat team meals and travel and what is socially acceptable and what is not is another major eye opener. If you factor in what communism’s principals are and add them to these equations you get some very entertaining and interesting results. I am saving the juiciest stories for my book that I am writing on China and team sports.

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    Posted in 01_日本語, 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, ECHL, hockey, information, NHL, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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 »

    パーピック、クロアチアへ

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 September 8日 Tuesday

    チャイナ・シャークス入りする予定だった石岡敏選手は結局東北へ行きましたが、同じく元西武でシャークスへ移籍する予定だったジョエル・パーピック選手はなんとEBEL (オーストリア主体の国際リーグ)のクロアチアのチームMedveščak へ移籍だそうです。EBEL はアジアリーグよりレベルが高いであろうし(代表チームの力の差から見て)、また年を重ねた上、体格のアドバンテージはアジアリーグ程ではないので、AL時代の成績は期待できないでしょうが、そこそこ活躍するんじゃないでしょうか。そして日本より格下のクロアチアのチームだから、主力助っ人として補強されたのでしょう。シャークスからの提携が切られドラゴンへなった波紋ですね。

    追記:両親がクロアチア人なので、現在クロアチアパスポート待ち(外国人選手枠に入らなくなる)だそうで、プレーを始められるのは10月になるみたいです。

    Posted in 01_日本語, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    China Dragon are official

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 September 3日 Thursday

    Yes, it sounds like  a Chinese restaurant, but the Chinese entry in the Asia League has cut off its affliation with the NHL San Jose Sharks after one season, and now will be known as the China Dragon and will split their home games between Harbin and Shanghai (It’s good to see elite hockey back in Harbin on one hand, but this’ll lessen the impact in Shanghai, too bad China can only put together one viable AL squad.) The team is currently training in Harbin, and only has one import, the super veteran 42-year old Igor Andryushchenko who was instrumental in the Belarussian Junost Minsk winning the 2007 European Continental Cup (one level below the European Champions League or its equivalent) along with his then teammate and now China Dragon coach Andrei Kovalev.

    The Dragon plan on adding 2 or 3 more imports but they do not intend on maximizing the 7 import slots that they have in order to grow domestic talent. But they will be hard pressed to avoid being a doormat team again without an elite goalie like they had with Wade Flaherty last season. Imports are expected to be Belarussian and Kazakhstani. Though the coach or the Belarussian media still think that the now defunct Seibu Prince Rabbits are the team to beat in the league, so accurate information seems to be hard to come by. Unless the Dragon get an elite goalie, with the traditionally sieve defence of the Chinese, it’ll be a long season, especially with the highly bolstered Bucks lineup to contend with, and the Blades may be no pushovers either.

    Anyways, it’ll be yet another interesting season coming up in the ever changing Asia League.

    The Chinese hockey federation (government) is apparently saving money by going the Belaruss route instead of American, but I thought the Sharks provided coaching and players for almost free last season, but I might be wrong, and the economic downturn doesn’t help. This is mostly speculation.

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

    China Dragon?

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 August 31日 Monday

    It’s almost certain that the San Jose Sharks have pulled out of their venture in China with the China Sharks, the only Chinese entry in the Asia Legue. First, in a recent IIHF article, it was announced that China has hired Belarussian Andrei Kovalev to coach both the national team and the Chinese Asia League team (doesn’t say Sharks).

    China hired former Belarusian national player Andrei Kovalev as its new head coach. He signed a contract through April 2010.

    The 43-year-old has plenty of international experience as a player. Kovalev played in eight World Championships and two Olympics with Belarus. He also won U20 gold with the Soviets. He played for Dynamo Minsk and Dynamo Moscow in the Russian and Soviet league before a two-year stint in North America in the AHL and other minor leagues, and 13 years in Germany. He ended his playing career in 2007 with Yunost Minsk.

    After retiring, he worked with Yunost before becoming the assistant coach of HK Vitebsk.

    Kovalev will be assisted by Chinese coaches and he will also be the head coach of the Chinese team in the Asian League. The club is located in a new 8,000-seat arena in Shanghai and it’s the strongest club team in the country.

    Then in the Blades-Bucks preseason games over the weekend, apparently people were given pamphlets for the upcoming Asia League season with a team named “China Dragon”.

    Removal of Sharks personnel (especially coach) from the Chinese team, and the addition of Kovalev definitely indicates a change in direction away from the Sharks, but with the China team’s opening game quickly approaching on 24 September, they’ll have to get their act together in a hurry. And it looks like yet another year where top level Chinese hockey is changing directions with no clear long term plan.

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, International, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

    チャイナ・シャークス?

    Posted by japanstats on 2009 August 28日 Friday

    シャークス行きだったはずの元西武の石岡敏が結局東北フリーブレイズと契約しました。

    そしてシャークスの公式HPでもアジアリーグの公式HPでも全く音沙汰が無い。2ちゃんではサンノゼ・シャークスとの提携が終わっていて、今シーズンはアジアリーグ不参加との噂も…真相はいかに?

    でもIIHFのニュース記事では、中国代表とチャイナ・シャークスの新ヘッドコーチは、国際経験豊富なベラルーシ人のAndrei Kovalev 氏に決定したそうだとか。てか、ベラルーシ人を新ヘッドとして採用してる時点で、もうなんかサンノゼとは離れていってる感じもする。

    Posted in 01_日本語, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, NHL, 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 »

    2008-09 AL Season Review

    Posted by japanstats 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 »

    Seibu oldtimers game and AL’s future

    Posted by japanstats 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »