By Mel Tsuji
There was a major breakthrough involving two Japanese Canadian teams at the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships played in Toronto at the end of December.
Arashi, the JC men’s team, and Typhoon, the women’s team, both made it through to their championship games, an achievement never accomplished in the nine years of the tourney.
But the fact that both teams lost seems beside the point. Arashi lost 6-0 to a highly-skilled Israeli team. And Typhoon were overwhelmed 5-0 in a controversial game against the Macedonians.
Two weeks after the week-long, post-Boxing Day tournament ended, major issues still exist for officials to solve. Framing those issues are violence, fighting and illegal players that marred some otherwise excellent hockey.
Arashi had come through the preliminary round, winning two games and losing one in its most successful showing since the tournament started in 2004.
But their semi-final matchup with the perennially-strong Irish seemed scripted for the obvious – Arashi had never beaten nor come close to vanquishing one of the best teams in the GTA.
However, the unexpected happened. Arashi beat the Irish 3-0 by doggedly checking and thwarting every offensive thrust the Shamrocks could muster. But the Irish, “the most hated team in the tournament,” as one observer described them, turned to intimidation and goon tactics to turn back the much-smaller Arashi players.
In an incident near the end of the game, Irish players attacked Brent Tamane, one with a two-hander, taking him down to the ice, where another player proceeded to punch him while he was down. All this in non-contact hockey.
In a near brawl atmosphere, the game was awarded to Arashi with two minutes remaining, after an Irish player pushed one of the referees. There were rumours that two Irish players had been suspended from the tournament for their role in the melee.
Some have called for the Irish to be kicked out of the tourney because “a lot of teams have complaints about them,” said an official.
Wayne Yamashita, the Arashi manager and a vice president of the CMHL, said “the one player who got kicked out at the end and pushed the referee has been banned from the tournament.” Another official has identified that player as Justin Olden, of the Irish. And the Irish, as a team, could be kicked out of the tournament for a year. But all that depends on talks between team officials and the tournament now taking place.
Yamashita said officials “have video on the incident,” and may “kicked the Irish out of the tournament unless they change.”
Violence seemed to mark this year’s tourney. The Russians of the B division got into fights with the Ukrainian team in the round-robin part of the tournament, in a game that apparently mirrored historical differences. Then the Russians initiated fights with the Filipino team in the B finale, which the Russians won 6-3.
As of this writing, officials had not yet decided if any action would be taken against the Russian team.
The Japanese Canadian women, meanwhile, ran into their own difficulties. They had run up a 3-0-1 won-lost record in the preliminary round, including a tie against the Macedonians.
The Typhoon women look poised for their first-ever title, because of new, young recruits, including Stephanie and Linsy Nakamura, both former scholarship players with Newmann College in Philadelphia, hard-nosed checker Lianne Hirabayashi and smart defender Quinn Devlin.
They were bolstered by veterans Cristin Allen, a former Division 1 scholarship player at the University of Connecticut, future star 16-year-old Kimiko Marinacci and smart playmaker Danielle Fujiwara, only 22 but already a five-year veteran with Typhoon.
But when they met the Macedonians in the finale, they ran up against what appeared to be a different team. They had faster, more experienced players, including one from the Toronto Furies, one of the top women’s teams in the world.
The result was a 5-0 victory for the Macedonians. But illegal players, an issue that has plagued the women’s division many times in the past, came up again in this game. An unnamed Typhoon player considered making a complaint with the tournament, stating that at least one of the Macedonian players was not of Macedonian heritage.
But she apparently decided not to lodge the protest after an official said tournament rules state “if a team wishes to challenge a player’s ineligibility, then it needs to be done before the tournament or at least before the game is played.”
But left out of that explanation is the fact that ineligible players cannot be identified – until they’re playing.
Meanwhile, all these shenanigans seemed to downplay excellent hockey at the tourney. Arashi came away feeling confident of their place in the tournament’s top division. That was never the case in the first eight years of their play, because the team was often left winless in the preliminary round and rarely made the playoffs.
The team was often asked if it wanted to drop down to the B division, like the Chinese and Korean teams, after many years of frustrating play. But Captain Lorne Hunchuk represented the feelings of all the Arashi players, when he told manager Wayne Yamashita, that the team wanted to remain in the top division. The team’s play in this year’s tourney confirmed that commitment.
Arashi won two games and lost one in the preliminary round. They had 8 goals for and 8 goals against. The team ended off this thrust with a 3-0 victory over the Irish.
The JC team has never had this kind of offensive power to go with the superb goaltending of Anthony Marshall. The team would never be competitive without the 6’4” goalie, who game in and game out kept Arashi in games with unbelievable saves.
This year, Arashi was bolstered by the return of two talented veterans: Tommy Sumi Jr. and Brent Tamane. After a successful career with the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the Ontario Tier 2 junior league, Sumi is now in his sophomore season as a scholarship player with Division 3 Elmira College in New York State.
His speedy attacks up ice added an element that Arashi has rarely had. He capped off his play with a brilliant three-goal, hat trick against the Macedonians.
He was paired with Tamane, a former star with the Tier 2 Jr. Canadiens and centre with Newmann College in Philadelphia. After graduation, he’s been playing minor pro in the U.S., but decided to take this year off because of pro-longed health issues. Though out-of-shape and weakened by his condition, Tamane provided some canny play-making ability for Arashi.
Other players also provided the team with tough, hard-skating experience, including: former juniors Michael Macdonald, Stephen Wong, only 5’5’’ but the fastest skater in the tourney and Jason Uyeno. Lanky Adam Tanaka, only 22, was a valuable anchor on defence.
Macdonald, a former player with the Quebec junior league’s, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, probably proved to be most valuable throughout the tourney. He’s usually a fast-skating, scoring threat, but he added tough back-checking that resulted in numerous break-aways for Arashi.
In all, a good debut for new bench coach, Steve Giuliani, who took over the team with co-coaches, Lorne Hunchuk and Adrian Sakamoto.
They replaced Bob Fukumoto, who had coached Arashi since its inception in 2004.