It’s not an uncommon practice for North American Hockey League (NAHL) teams to have summer tryouts outside of their home base, as most teams schedule them all across the United States.
Then there’s the Motor City Metal Jackets, who had an open tryout last weekend in Tokyo and another this upcoming weekend in Osaka, Japan.
“Our tryout camps have been well received in Japan and have drawn huge interest among hockey players,” Metal Jackets owner Kenji Yamada said. “In reality, we may not be able to find many players who can make our team immediately, but I hope that our effort will become a good stimulus for the Japanese hockey society and younger players will start looking at more opportunities for their hockey career.”
Yamada also has hopes that he can one day see a Japanese import or two playing for Motor City.
“I dream that a Japanese player can be developed in our program, go to college, and ultimately advance to a professional career in North America,” said Yamada. “It’s not my goal to have a Japanese-born player on the roster, but rather to develop a top-level hockey development program in the most advanced hockey market, like in the USA. Of course, in the course of our journey, if (a) Japanese player or players can make my team and part of our roster, I’m more than happy to see that.”
With pro hockey prevalent in the Land of the Rising Sun, junior hockey is not even a blip on the hockey radar overseas, but, over time, that should change for the better.
“In Japan, the number of players in urban areas has increased in recent years,” explained Yamada. “I strongly believe in a future of Japanese junior hockey. However, they have a serious problem in top teams (Asian league teams) because they’re financially struggling, and young Japanese players cannot foresee their future in a hockey career. I hope that our hockey club can become a bridge for those players.”
Back in Michigan, the Metal Jackets took huge strides this year and advanced to the North Division finals, where the Traverse City North Stars ultimately eliminated them from the postseason.
“I think our first year (with the new ownership group) was very successful, like 120 percent more than we expected,” beamed Yamada. “I really appreciate the effort and dedication of all our staff, players and supporters around us, especially the effort and commitment from our head coach, David Cole. Of course, we have a lot of areas for improvements, but as a starting year, we were in pretty good shape.
“Last year, we had a lot of new players to the Junior A level and we were struggling to implement our game plans toward the middle of the season. This year, we have many players coming back from last year’s team and we can have a jumpstart from the beginning.
“We learned a lot from last year’s experience about how to run the game, how to entertain the audience, and how to make an effective TV broadcast. Next year is going to be a very exciting year for fans who come and watch our games in our arena and who watch the game on TV.
“We are also moving to a new arena (Kennedy Recreation Center in Trenton, Mich.) with more seating capacity and more traffic. I hope we’ll be able attract more fans to our games this year.”
Never one to pat himself on the back, but a great deal of credit goes to Yamada and his group for providing some stability to the Metal Jackets organization.
It remains to be seen if a foreign ownership group will become commonplace in the NAHL, though Yamada thinks there is more to it than where the owners come from.
“I think the question is not the nationality, but more towards the quality of ownership,” stated Yamada. “I may be saying this message to myself, that the good ownership should have strong commitment, financial stability, hockey knowledge, network and dedication towards young player development. If we have more foreign ownership with those aspects, then we’ll see more foreign ownership in our league.”