Nikko, Japan Well, I’ve finally done it! I have accomplished the Asia League goal I set for myself last fall – to see every team in action at least once. Sure, there are only seven teams calling the Asia League home, but a girl’s gotta eat, doesn’t she?! Unfortunately, for the China Dragon, our schedules did not sync up in 2011-12. As you know, I became a bit of a workaholic in Japan, so if a business opportunity came up at the last minute on the eve of a China adventure, I’d always grab it. I know, work before hockey?! What’s wrong with me?!?!
Said workaholism also prevented me from seeing as many ALIH games as I would have liked. I definitely made a subpar number of appearances at the Asian rinks last year, but at least give me credit for still managing to get 10 North American (NHL, AHL, OHL) games under my belt last season despite living 130 kms east of Tokyo!
Anyway, it seems the hockey gods are smiling on me this season (except for that whole Lockout thing), as Opening Day in the Asia League brought the China Dragon to Nikko. With only a matter of days before my return to Toronto, I was truly lucky for cooperation from the schedule on this matter. Sadly, that game is likely to be my final game in the ALIH, but I am tempted to catch the Free Blades game in Nikko on the 22nd as well. We shall see… I have to move out on the 27th, and if I know me, and I think I do, I likely will not be anywhere near ready for the move that weekend.
So you’re probably wondering why my goal for the ALIH was different than it is for say the NHL or OHL. Meaning, why was my goal not simply to visit every rink in the League like I do at home? Well… The Asia League is still a young league, and it has two main objectives. The first is to promote Asian talent to the rest of the world. The league relies heavily on their import players, coaches, and trainers to help build up the skill level of Asian hockey players. This was surprisingly true for the Dragon, as it seemed their import line was on the ice at all times. I was personally shocked by this as I *heard* hockey is huge in China – especially in the north due to its proximity to Russia. In fairness, the China Dragon are from Shanghai, which is kinda, sorta southish.
The second objective in the Asia League is to grow the game within their own countries like the NHL does with the palm trees and cacti states. Each season, Asia League teams host a handful of games at their home rinks, and then take the show on the road to various non-ALIH cities, and host a game or two there. Therefore, it would be virtually impossible for me to see games at ALL the Asia League rinks, as they essentially change from year to year. Not to mention the Free Blades still haven’t dropped the puck in their home Tohoku rink since the 3/11 Crisis!
Also, the ALIH takes the AHL approach to scheduling, and avoids hosting games on week days as much as possible, which is restrictive to the workaholic whose schedule changes week by week. Lastly, traveling within Asia (especially in Japan) is both costly and time consuming. It would be almost impossible to get to Hokkaido and back for a hockey game on a weekend, and still be able to make it to work on Monday morning! Plus, I’m not too keen on purchasing a Chinese visa for the purpose of seeing one ALIH team at their home rink. That being said, I’m not above buying a visa for the purposes of a KHL tour FYI!
OK so back to the home opener at Nikko’s Kirifuri Ice Arena… I made the trek up to Nikko on Saturday in a sort of panic. IceBucks fans are intense! I don’t know what it is about hockey fans in black and orange jerseys, but like the fans in Philly, Nikko fans are a bunch of loud, scary-as-hell mofos. I just *knew* that they were going to turn up in droves on Opening Day, and I was actually worried that I wouldn’t be able to secure a seat at the game. Sure enough, as I approached the arena on top of the hill, 2.5 hours before puck drop, I might add, I was greeted by a sea of orange. No there wasn’t a fan rally or tailgate party going on! The fans were simply lined up to collect their season tickets and/or purchase tickets for the game that afternoon. Fuck.
Luckily, I did manage to get a seat, but once again opted to stand next to the section with the loudest fans instead, as to better observe them. You could really tell that it had been a long offseason for everyone, as the Japanese version of the San Antonio Rowdies (AHL) had really brought their A-games! Oh, and I suppose the IceBucks did, too, as they completely annihilated China 5-zip!
At one point during the second period, I began to reflect on my Psycho Lady adventures. I thought of the days when magic used to happen on the road. Chance encounters, bizarre coincidences, and even hilarious mishaps all now seem to be a thing of the past. I started to think about the people reading this blog, and felt bad for the fact that I have likely bored them to death (like I am probably doing now) as the years drag on. I found myself praying to the hockey gods (in my head) for a lightning bolt to shake things up a bit. What happened to the danger? Where is the intrigue? What ever became of the people that had made such an impression on me on the road in seasons past? I was thinking about how every hockey trip was starting to mirror the last in that yucky “vanilla” sort of way: it goes to game, it watches game, it goes home, it rubs the lotion on its skin. I suppose things started to go downhill when I started to take to the road on my own, and no longer had people to laugh with, or make sarcastic off-colour remarks to. Sadly, this game was no different… Except for one thing…
On my way back to my perch in the third period, I was approached by a fan, a fellow Canadian living in Japan for 20+ years, who asked me if I was the “Psycho Hockey Lady.” I said I was, but I was in complete shock that someone in the Asia League community actually knew who I was, and more so that he had heard about me recently on a radio show he streamed from Toronto! I guess I was shocked that people would still be talking about me back home especially after the aforementioned blandness of my recent hockey experiences. I suppose they can’t all be Mem Cup worthy reports, though! Anyway, I thought it was a pretty interesting encounter. And definitely as shocking as it was back in the early months of this site (2009), when one of the border guards (Buffalo, naturally) knew who I was from reading Psycho Lady Hockey, and not simply from my notorious track record of being sent for secondary inspection. I guess I’ve been in Asia too long… My work here is done!
Countdown to my return to Hockey Land: 16 days!
Top Photo: Attempt #452983 to get a picture of me in front of the ice. Pics were either too close (above), too dark, or too blurry. Finally it just became embarrassing to ask for a do over. I clearly need a new camera… Or a life…