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New Coach Jarrod Skalde Has Big Plans for Japan Ice Hockey National Team

Former NHL player Jarrod Skalde will guide the Japan men's squad at the upcoming world championships while aiming to qualify for the Olympics.

The Japan Ice Hockey Federation has appointed former National Hockey League player Jarrod Skalde as the new coach of the men's national team.

Skalde, a 53-year-old native of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, replaces fellow Canadian Perry Pearn, who was not rehired after his contract expired on March 31.

The senior national team was 12-3-1 under the 72-year-old Pearn but officials at the JIHF decided to go in a different direction.

Skalde's first order of business will be getting the men's national team ready for the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I, Group A, which will be held from April 28 to May 4 in Bolzano, Italy.

Japan will face Hungary, Italy, South Korea and Romania. The top two teams will be promoted to the Top Division for the 2025 world championships.

Beyond that, the big goal is to qualify for the 2026 Olympics. The last time Japan's men's hockey team reached the Olympics was in 1998 in Nagano. That time it qualified as host nation.

At the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy, the hockey tournament will feature 12 teams. Three slots are still open through qualifying tournaments.

"There are obviously big goals ahead with the world championships and the Olympic qualifiers," Skalde said at a press conference in Tokyo on April 10 where he was introduced as the new coach.

"We are going up to Tomakomai in Hokkaido for a training camp and our focus will be getting the players prepared for that first game (on April 28) against Hungary."  

Japan Impressed Skalde During His First Visit in 1998

Skalde first came to Japan as a member of the San Jose Sharks when they opened the 1998 NHL season in Tokyo against the Calgary Flames.

After that visit, Skalde said he was so impressed with the country that he was determined to get back as a player, which he did. But little did he know that he would end up as coach of the national team.

Skalde had a long career as a forward in the National Hockey League. He began his NHL playing days in the 1990-91 campaign with the New Jersey Devils and finished in the 2001-02 season with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Skalde played in Japan for the Oji Eagles in the Asia League Ice Hockey in 2006-07. In 34 games, he had 15 goals and 47 points and two goals in four playoff games.

During his playing career, Skalde also had stints in Switzerland and Slovakia.

Jarrod Skalde
Jarrod Skalde (KYODO)

Skalde Outlines Thoughts on the Japan National Team

As a coach, Skalde has extensive experience in the minor leagues with various teams, including the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League where he was the head coach.

He was also an assistant coach with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins.

As for what he sees in Japan's team, Skalde said the following.

"I really like our defense, I think our defense skates very well. They move the puck very well and they are very aggressive," Skalde said. "In order to create offense, you've got to be able to move the puck and I believe that is one of the strengths we have on our back end."

Japan is currently 25th in the International Ice Hockey Federation world rankings. As for areas of improvement, Skalde has already formed an opinion.

"I think we need to be more aggressive," Skalde said. "And being more aggressive isn't necessarily being more physical, it's just getting to the puck quicker and taking away time and space from the other team."

Added the former NHL player, "So that's an area we are going to focus on a lot is utilizing our defense even more because it is a strength of our team."

Yushiroh Hirano in action with the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones during the 2021-22 season. (Courtesy of TONY BAILEY PHOTOGRAPHY)

It's just a shoe!

Skalde Offers Assessment of Hirano

Skalde had high praise for 6-foot-2 (188-cm), 205-pound (93-kg) forward Yushiroh Hirano, whom the Canadian coached when he was at Wilkes-Barre in the 2018-19 season.

"The first thing you notice about Yushiroh is his size," Skalde said. "He's a big, strong guy. 

The new Japan coach added, "He probably has one of the best shots I've seen; he can absolutely rip a puck."

Skalde continued, "He's such a force out there offensively [and] he's a big part of the national team. I know he is having success in Adirondack this year, he's playing on a very good hockey team right now. With those two attributes ― a big guy who can shoot the puck ― he's got a very big upside."

Hirano has played for the Japan national team in the past and is currently with the Adirondack Thunder in the ECHL. In 58 games this season, Hirano has 16 goals and 36 assists.

Skalde hopes Hirano will be available for national team duty but said it all depends on his commitment to the Thunder.

Men's ice hockey has flown under the radar in Japan largely due to a lack of promotional skills by those in charge. Nothing would do more to give the game a boost than some success on the international stage.

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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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