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Makuru Furuhashi Aiming to Power Nikko Ice Bucks to the Top of Asia League

The Nikko native is hoping to repeat his stellar offensive production from last season when he tallied 58 points for the Nikko Ice Bucks.

Forward Makuru Furuhashi will be front and center when the Nikko Ice Bucks kick off the 2023-24 Asia League Ice Hockey season on Saturday, September 16 at home against the Tohoku Free Blades.

Furuhashi will be looking to pick up where he left off last season when he was second overall with 58 points (27 goals, 31 assists) in 40 games for the IceBucks, who finished third overall.

Born and bred in Nikko, Furuhashi is the perfect leader for a team that is a huge part of the community north of Tokyo known mostly as a tourist destination.

"There are only 32 games this season and only the top two teams make the playoffs," Furuhashi said. "So every game is important and I will play with a sense of urgency. I want to help the team by getting points in every game."

Nikko Ice Bucks
The Nikko Ice Bucks open their 2023-24 Asia League Ice Hockey season on September 16. (NIKKO ICE BUCKS)

The other season-opening series in the Asia League will feature the Red Eagles Hokkaido hosting South Korean team Anyang Halla at their home rink in Tomakomai, Hokkaido Prefecture, on the same weekend. In the opener, the Eagles will be aiming to avenge their loss to Anyang Halla in last year's final.

Coached by former NHL player Jim Paek, Anyang beat the Eagles 2-1 in Game 5 of last year's final in March 2023 to take the series three games to two.

That showdown capped the first full Asia League Ice Hockey season after the competition had been pared down to just Japan-based teams for the previous three seasons due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The Powerhouse of Japanese Hockey

Formerly the Oji Eagles, the Red Eagles Hokkaido are Japan's most successful ice hockey team with two Asia League championships (2007-08, 2011-12) and a total of 13 Japan League titles.

They have also won the All Japan Championship 37 times. When the Asia League was reduced to just Japanese teams during the pandemic, the Red Eagles won the Japan Cup twice in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

The Red Eagles will be led by captain Shogo Nakajima, who finished first in the league last season with 75 points (22 goals, 53 assists). 

Yokohama Grits forward Naoto Hamashima (center) practices with teammates. (YOKOHAMA GRITS)

Grits, Free Blades Seek Better Results

Canadian coach Jeff Flanagan is back behind the bench for a Yokohama Grits team that showed considerable improvement in the 2022-23 campaign.

After two straight years of finishing in the cellar, the Grits placed fifth under Flanagan, one position better than the Tohoku Free Blades. Flanagan's team managed 11 wins last season, a huge improvement on just the two they had in the previous season.

The East Hokkaido Cranes, who are based in Kushiro, finished fourth in 2022-23. They were founded in 2019 following the demise of the Nippon Paper Cranes. (The franchise is not playing this season due to financial problems.)

With the pandemic behind us, hopefully the Asia League Ice Hockey can start to get some traction in the Japan sports scene. The league announced in late August that all games can be seen live on the Asia League Ice Hockey website.

Drop the puck!


Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.

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