This July, the Nikkei Hockey team, made up of 22 youth players, spent two weeks in Japan playing hockey and engaging in a cultural exchange. The team visited Tokyo and Kushiro in Hokkaido, Japan—Burnaby’s sister city. This year, for the first time, a female player joined the team. Rachel Budden (Defense), along with Ryan Kidd (forward) and Justin Wong (forward) visited the Nikkei Centre a few days before leaving on their journey. All of them felt this would be an unbelievable opportunity for them to participate in an exchange of Canadian and Japanese cultures through the sport of ice hockey. Hitomi Nakajima, the Nikkei Hockey coach called “Coach Nak” by his players, hopes the Nikkei Hockey experience will create lasting memories for these players: “This is not just about hockey, but their own personal growth on this journey.” We are proud of our Nikkei Hockey team representing Canada for us in Japan and look forward to hearing more about their hockey experience in the future! In the meantime, the team kept a day-by-day journal of their trip and following are some excerpts.
Day 6 An uneventful trip to the airport this am. But checking in was a different story... I'm not sure why, but me being detained by airport security became a source of entrainment for the whole group (Diane won't tell me how to say "I have a metal hip" in Japanese).
When we arrived at Kurshiro the Japanese Committee and fans were there to greet us with a large banner and welcoming speech. Posters have been put up all over town announcing the Nikkei Hockey team's game schedule.
Coach Nak ran a low-key practice for a bunch of tired players. Afterwards everyone got settled into their new digs and enjoyed the cooler temperatures. However, some parents settled in more than others (Dean and Susan's slippers are even cuter than their yukatas).
Day 8 Team Nikkei played Bushukan, Kushiro's numero uno high school team. This team even had its own professional cheering section, well over 100 strong with 200 loud hailers, rehearsed songs, cheers, dances and a drum. Our parent cheering group were no match but we gave it the old college try and did manage to get them to participate in the Canadian wave. Our largest crowd to date, I'm guessing 300-350 people.
The game began on a positive note as Justin scored on the first shift but quickly went sideways as we took two simultaneous penalties on the same shift . . . you should have heard the professional cheerers then—deafening. But our PK was outstanding and it needed to be as we spent the equivalent of one whole period short-handed with our 10 minors and one misconduct.
Half way through the first, Bushukan scored on an gratuitous bounce off the side boards that caught everyone by surprise. 1-1 after 1.
At 16:25 in the second Bushukan scored again on an odd-man rush with some nice finish. We countered rather quickly with a nice individual effort and deke by Nimi. But near the end of the period a pretty three-way tic-tac-toe passing play ended in a tap in for Bushukan team, 3-2 after 2.
Bushukan played tough and scored early in the third but we countered again on our first PP. Taylor scored from the high slot to keep it close. But Bushukan just kept coming and took advantage of minor mistakes, tallying two more, one into the empty net for a 6-3 final.
Day 10 For today's game Coach Nak will be inserting his secret weapon (Rachel), who has been away practicing with Japanese female players. The Daishin Hockey Club has a long history of producing Japanese pro players, including Coach Nak.
The Daishin has only recently (10 years or so) had a female program but is now among the top three Division A teams in Japan and includes six national team players. The players range from 13 to 28 years old and like the boys, are all incredible skaters with great puck skills. The atmosphere in this very cold rink, on the outskirts of town, is filled with respect, hard-work and discipline—but it is also plain to see the girls truly love hockey and are having fun. The level of hockey is comparable to our university female hockey.
The Daishin coach ran two hour-long practices which were fast, intense and, included skating and skills, tactics and flow drills. At the end there was always a gruelingly long bag skate—but not as punishment, just part of conditioning. Something else different, there were several female Atom players fully participating in the practice. Last night they were all treated to a fun scrimmage where the Japanese players revealed even more talents.
More friendships were made and lessons learned about our Japanese roots! The girls earned their honorary bunny ears and were invited to return next time they visit Japan. A very special experience that will be cherished by our girls forever.
Day 13 The arena was the 1972 Sapporo winter Olympic venue filled with over 200 fans for our game. The Hokkai high school parents made us feel very welcome as they provided drinks and snacks for us.
The Hokkai team proved to be ready, rested, physical, skilled and a well-oiled machine and could handle anything the our team could muster up, which proved to be not very much after 13 days, 8 games and thousand of km's of travel.
Period one - out shot 16-0, 4 pims for Hokkai and 6 for us, 5-0 after one
Period two - out shot 18-6, 4 pims for Hokkai and 16 for us, 7-0 after two
Period three - out shot 12-5, 0 pims for Hokkai and 10 for us, 7-0 final.
A very quiet bus ride back to the hotel but all was quickly forgot as the night is young. Players and parents quickly unloaded gear, changed and left the hotel to explore Sapporo further.
One more day of culture tomorrow and then the journey home for most.