Sunday, January 29, 2012

Another Asia League Ice Hockey Doubleheader - January 28, 2012


As I mentioned when I last went to see some Asia League Ice Hockey, the circuit now comprises teams from Japan, Korea, and China. The Chinese entry has managed but a single overtime loss in 24 contests so they are not worth watching, but the two Korean squads are competitive, with Anyang Halla sitting second in the 7-team league, just behind the Oji Eagles. With these two teams facing off in Tokyo in the early game of a doubleheader and the other Korean club, High 1, taking on the Nippon Paper Cranes in the nightcap, I thought it a good time as any to revisit the DyDo Drinco Ice Arena to see just how good Korean hockey is.

DyDo Drinco Ice Arena


Located in western Tokyo, this arena used to be home to the Seibu Prince Rabbits who folded two seasons back. Since then, the arena is mostly used as a local skating rink as well as for games featuring Tokyo universities. It is right next to Higashi Fushimi station (above) on the Seibu Shinjuku line and takes just 2o minutes from Shinjuku, although you have to transfer from the rapid to the local train two stops before. It was originally known as the Higashi Fushimi Ice Arena before DyDo (a soft drinks concern) bought the naming rights in 2006.


With a capacity of 3,500, the rink is quite a bit nicer than the one used in Yokohama, but there is still little else to write about. You can walk around the concourse but it does get crowded near the west side where the path becomes very narrow. When I saw a game here nearly 15 years ago, the boards were partially made of plexiglass so you could see through them onto the ice, a rather unique touch. Since then though, there have been renovations and the rink is much like any other small hockey venue.


There is a limited concession offering noodles, beef buns, and a few other rather tasteless looking morsels. I would recommend buying your food at one of the convenience stores near the station. There is also a McDonalds right across the street from the arena if you are particularly hard up for choices.


Tickets for the doubleheader were 4,000 yen for the reserved seats along the sidelines (the red box seats in the picture above) and 3,000 yen for the unreserved benches next to the glass. There's quite a bit of distance between the bench and the glass, so some people spent the game standing right next to the glass taking pictures, which didn't seem to bother anyone.


The south side corners were reserved for the cheering sections, above is the small group supporting Anyang Halla. Unfortunately, they didn't have much to cheer for.

Game 1 - Anyang Halla 0 vs Oji Eagles 4


This one was over early as Oji's Marc Cavosie (above) scored just a minute in, and he assisted on a Shuhei Kuji goal two minutes after that. A third tally from Sho Sato at the 8-minute mark and the rout was on. Chris Harrington added a 4th in the middle frame to close out the scoring. Halla never really threatened and were outshot 47-23 on the afternoon, despite being gifted with 7 consecutive power plays. With the win, Oji clinched a playoff spot.

Perhaps the highlight of the game was a fight late in the third period. I didn't see what precipitated the brawl, but several players were involved, including Yusuke Kon and Yoon- Hwan Kim trying in vain to pummel each other. Woo-Young Kim (Halla had 8 Kim's in total) then tried a flying arm tackle, only to miss badly and fall to the ice. For his troubles, W.Y. Kim was given 5 minutes for cross-checking and a game misconduct. Kon and the other Kim were given double minors and misconducts, which they were forced to serve out in the penalty box despite there being just 7 minutes left in the game.

One of the names I was suprised to see on the Anyang Halla roster was Ric Jackman (below), who spent parts of 5 seasons in the NHL and won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. He was on the ice for all 4 Oji goals and seemed to be a bit out of sorts throughout the game, as did most of his team.


After an hour break, in which fans could leave the rink to warm up (there was no heating inside so people ran over to McDonalds or the nearby grocery store to escape the chill), the second game was on tap, with fourth-place Nippon Paper Cranes taking on High 1, who ranked 5th. It was a critical battle for the final playoff spot, and turned out to be a much better game than the one between the top two squads.

Game 2 - High 1 3 vs Nippon Paper Cranes 4 (SO)

The High 1 team is sponsored by a ski resort in Korea and has no nickname. There were 3 Japanese players on the team, including starting goalie Mitsuaki Inoue, shown below making a pad save.


High 1 opened the scoring 9 minutes into the first period when Hyung-Joon Kim (one of 7 Kim's on the team) blasted a shot that Cranes' keeper Hisashi Ishikawa mishandled with his trapper. The Korean club added to their lead five minutes later when Michael Swift sent Oren Eizenman in on a shorthanded breakaway, which he deftly converted with a top shelf shot.


The second period saw another shorthanded goal for High 1, this time Swift scoring on a wicked wrister from the slot, with Eizenman picking up the assist. It looked like another rout, but shortly after, High 1 picked up a delay of game penalty to go down 2 men, and the Cranes converted the 5-on-3 with Hideyuki Osawa scoring from the point (that's the Cranes celebrating below).


Near the midway point of the period, High 1 had a power play when two of their players collided, allowing the Cranes to break out. Shinya Yanadori finished off a nice passing play to make it 3-2. For those counting, that was 3 shorthanded goals in the game.

Momentum had clearly shifted, and the Cranes pressed for the equalizer, finally capitalizing with just 7 seconds left in the period. After a strong and persistent forecheck, the puck came to captain Daisuke Obara open in the slot and he buried a slap shot behind Inoue to send us to the final frame tied at 3.

The third period was back and forth, but neither team scored, so it was on to a 5-minute overtime period, which decided nothing, although the Cranes had the better of the play, only to be stymied by Inoue several times.

Lots of threes on the scoreboard.

This brought on the shootout, or Game Winning Shots (GWS) as it is called in this league. The Cranes went first and missed. Swift shot first for High 1 and beat Ishizaki with a snap shot (below).


John Hecimovic then shot for the Cranes and scored on a great deke, lifting the puck up and over Inoue (below).


You might have noticed that both goalies were defending the same net. Unlike the NHL, the ALIH only uses one of the two goals during the GWS, which is bad news for fans at the other end.

Anyway, the next 3 shooters all failed and so the shootout was tied at 1. This is where things became confusing. The referees didn't seem to really understand the rules and it took a few minutes to get things straightened out. The teams now reversed the order of shooting, with High 1 going first, and the first team to win a round would win the game, just like in the NHL.

Yu-Won Lee missed the fourth attempt for High 1 (Yu-Lost!) and Masahito Nishiwaki had a chance to finally end things. He made no mistake, beating Inoue low to the stick side. Cranes win! Japan's hockey honour is saved! OK, this really wasn't about nationalism as there were Japanese players on the Korean club, but it was a very good game between two determined teams. In fact, it was one of the better sporting events I've seen in my time in Japan, and certainly more entertaining than many of the interminable baseball games I've endured over the years. It'll be interesting to see which of these teams makes it into the playoffs. High 1 has the advantage with 3 games left against the Chinese team with just a month left in the season.

Notes

Both the Korean and Japanese national anthems were played before each game. There was no booing.

The scoreboard displayed "offside" or "icing" whenever either was called on the ice, but the scoreboard operator didn't seem to know the rules that well, making mistakes when there were whistles for other reasons, such as the referee losing sight of the puck.

The teams switched dance partners on Sunday and again High 1 blew a 3-0 lead, losing 4-3 in overtime to the Eagles, while the Cranes thumped Halla 5-2.

For those interested, the Japanese and Korean national teams will play each other on March 31 and April 1 at the same rink. When I find more information, I will add it here.

Next Up

Just over a week until my trip to LA and the Prairies, but before that I'll watch some Top League Rugby, which finishes its regular season next weekend. I won't bother with a recap here, but from February 8th I'll be updating daily, so check back then.

Best,

Sean

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