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Shogo Nakajima Scores OT Winner as Red Eagles Edge Free Blades in Japan Cup Final Opener

The tightly contested opener featured superb goaltending on both sides.

Forward Shogo Nakajima scored late in overtime on Saturday, March 19 to give the Red Eagles Hokkaido a 1-0 win over the Tohoku Free Blades in the first game of the best-of-five Japan Cup ice hockey final.

After three scoreless periods at Flat Hachinohe Arena in Aomori Prefecture, Nakajima finally settled it with just 6 minutes, 49 seconds left in the 20-minute overtime.

Nakajima picked up a loose puck in the corner and fired a low angled shot that somehow found its way under the right pad of Tohoku goaltender Michio Hashimoto.

Each team had a power play opportunity in the extra frame but couldn’t take advantage.

The Free Blades outshot the Eagles 14-6 in overtime and 44-42 overall.

The best-of-five finals pits the winner of the first stage, Hokkaido, vs. second-stage winner, Tohoku.

After finishing fourth in the first half, the Free Blades went 8-4 in the second half to finish first and claim a spot in the Japan Cup final.

Tohoku defenseman Simon Denis was named league MVP and picked up his award before the start of Saturday’s game.

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The Canadian previously played in the East Coast Hockey League and the American Hockey League before coming to Japan.

Game Two is on Sunday at the same venue before the series shifts to Tomakomai, Hokkaido Prefecture, for the final three games beginning on Thursday, March 24.

History is on the side of the Eagles.

The club was founded as the Oji Eagles in 1925. They have won the Japan League 13 times, the All-Japan Championship 37 times and the Asia League two times (2008, 2012).

Oji was a founding member of the Asia League Ice Hockey in 2003. 

In 2021, the team changed its name to Red Eagles Hokkaido.

But the Free Blades also have a history of success in the Asia League. Founded in 2008, they have won three Asia League titles in 2011, 2013, and 2015.

They beat the Nikko Ice Bucks by scores of 5-4 and 4-3 in their final two games of the regular season on March 5 and 6 to book a place in the Japan Cup final.

Normally, the Asia League Ice Hockey features seven teams; five Japanese teams plus one from South Korea, Anyang Halla, and Russia, Sakhalin.

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But because of travel restrictions due to COVID-19, the league has just been contested among the five Japanese teams over the past two seasons in the two-stage Japan Cup.

Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here.

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