Arashi competed in the four game round robin and finished with a record of 1-2-1, losing to Poland and Serbia on the first day, then bouncing back on the second day to tie Macedonia and beat the heavily favoured Israel team 2-1 to land the seventh spot out of ten teams and gain a birth in the tournament quarterfinals. Nishizaki was Arashi’s most dangerous foward in the round robin, scoring their only goal in the loss to Poland with an end to end rush capped off by a chip shot that luckily found the net. He was also pivotal in the win over Israel as he scored the eventual game winning goal on a breakaway early in the third period.
Following stints with the Maroons and in the CIS with the Windsor Lancers, I asked Nishizaki how he heard about the Japanese team and about the calibre of hockey in the tournament.
“A couple guys emailed me through you actually saying that you had skated for them and that you had mentioned me to them, and so they have contacted me probably the last four or five years now and this is the first year I have been able to play over Christmas time.” he said during a holiday gathering.
I did play for Arashi myself a few years back and was very surprised by the fast pace and high calibre of the tournament. In my late thirties and playing men’s league “A” at the time, the high speed of play and my lack of conditioning had a large effect on my effectiveness.
“It was a lot better hockey than I thought it was going to be. I knew it would be a step faster than men’s league but I didn’t realize that it would be that good of hockey. The talent level on some of the teams is really good and there are some very good hockey players out there so it was a bit of a surprise for me at first but it was fun.”
Even though the Arashi dressing room is filled with fellow Japanese Canadians, there was only one “import” player that Nishizaki knew when he arrived.
“I didn’t really know anybody but I knew of the goaltender Anthony Marshall who plays Senior A for Brantford with a couple guys I played junior with and roller hockey with in the summer so kinda knew of him but that was it.”
Each roster is allowed to have two players on it that are not of the heritage or nationality of the team and they are deemed “import” players on the roster. This rule keeps the tournament in the spirit that is intended and is monitored very strictly by tournament organizers. It keeps the tournament very competitive year after year.
Arashi had not won a single game in the tournament in the last five years, always finishing in the bottom three spots and out of the playoff round so this year’s tournament can be seen as a success and something to build on. New and talented players like Nishizaki are hard to find in the Japanese community, and there is definitely a lack of talent as compared to many of the better teams in the tournament.
Arashi went on to lose to the Nubians in the quarterfinals 5-0, in a game that saw two fights break out in the dying minutes. This tournament is all in good fun but does get very competitive as the games move to the playoff round.
“The toughest opponent was definitely the Nubians in the quarterfinal. We were just outmatched and a bit undersized. They probably had a bit more skill than we did. Our speed matched their speed very well. We can skate with anybody but their size and skill was by far the best we faced.”
The Nubians were indeed a tough team all around and they ended up beating Poland in the semi-finals before losing in the finals to The Irish Shamrocks. The Shamrocks won the tournament for the fourth time in eight years and have reached the finals seven years out of eight. They defeated Israel to get to the finals.
Nishizaki had fun in the tournament, and will look to play on the squad whenever he is available to play, and thinks a tweak here and there to the system that Arashi plays could lead to better results in the future.
“I think they could just open up their system a bit more, they play a very tight defensive minded game and I think they have the speed to create some more turnovers in the offensive zone, where this year we sent only one guy in and had the rest sit back and try to hang on for the 1-1 tie or lose 1-0 or 2-1 instead of you know, let’s get on these guys and try to force some things.”
A Chatham native, Nishizaki played for the Maroons for five seasons from 2002-2003, through to 2006-2007 where he was a point a game player, a captain and a prominent representative in the community. While his Dad Verne has been his biggest influence in his life and career he remembers his time with the Maroons as pivotal in the success of his CIS career.