Former Chatham resident Dave Wakabayashi is the goalie coach for the team and former Chatham Maroon and Michigan Wolverine standout Mel Wakabayashi is involved as the Senior Vice Chairman of the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation, and has been assigned to the team for a couple of years now. Both will be going to Sochi as part of the team in 2014.
The women qualified for Sochi by winning a four-team, round robin qualifier tournament in Slovakia in early February.
Japan was down 3-0 early in the first game against Norway before storming back and getting a 4-3 win. They played Slovakia in the second game and lost in a shootout, but an upset win by Denmark over Slovakia earlier in the round robin made the Japan-Denmark game a winner take all affair. Japan defeated Denmark easily with a 5-0 shutout victory to finish first in the tournament and claim the final spot of the Olympic tournament.
Qualifying for the games is a great accomplishment for the Japanese Women’s team, and it has garnered a frenzy of media attention in Japan over the last few weeks since the tournament ended. There were over 100 accredited media members at the qualifier in Slovakia. The attention is well earned, as the hockey team will be the only team representing Japan in Sochi.
I spoke with Dave last week in Toronto, where he currently resides with his wife Faye, son Max and daughter Naomi.
“It’s very exciting. I’m very excited.” he said over the phone.
“The men lost in November so this was the last opportunity for a team to qualify in team sports for Japan. We are the only team that qualified for any team sports in the Olympics.” he added.
“It’s huge right now in a sense that the media coverage is frenzied because of all the things we accomplished. We had a great tournament, and we will be the only team there and all that cool stuff.”
The positive media attention has been bolstered by the timing of the accomplishment as the Japanese Olympic Committee has been under heavy fire recently for a scandal involving the Judo team. The Japanese media is all over this story, and is hoping the good news can balance out some of the negative publicity currently surrounding the Japanese Olympic team.
“Right now the JOC is under heavy scrutiny because the Judo team has a scandal right now involving harassment and there is negative media all over the JOC. We are like the shining bright light now that is distracting the country from all the negative. I’m getting emails from people in Japan, and they are like it’s absolutely crazy right now.” Wakabayashi said of the landscape.
Wakabayashi, is a former Chatham Minor Hockey and Blenheim Blades Alum, who went on to play hockey in the States on scholarship at Canterbury Prep School in Connecticut and then Lake Forest College in Illinios. He has been involved with the Japanese Women’s program for over a year now and makes regular trips to Japan to work with the team. He is also the goalie coach of the Tohoku Free Blades of the Asian Hockey League and works with them as well during his time in Japan. The Free Blades currently sit in second place in the seven team league, but it is his time with the women that has opened the door to Sochi.
Team members and coaches will have full access to the athlete’s village in Sochi which should have Dave shoulder to shoulder with some of the best hockey players in the world both male and female. The tournament will be an incredible spectacle to be a part of and a proud moment for the Chatham-Kent family.
Only one question remains for Wakabayashi as Sochi draws near, and that is if he has room for his little brother in his luggage.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a former Chatham-Kent resident, Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report UFC/NHL, Guest writer at Sportsnet.ca UFC and regular contributor to CKSN.ca