For one of the top hockey players in Japan, a first trip to the United States is one that he hopes will turn into a permanent stay.
Mei Ushu, a 20-year-old Japanese Islanders Mini-Camp invite, made his first trip to North America this past weekend to attend camp. He’s already enjoying his stay on Long Island for a number of reasons. He said he loves the hockey atmosphere in the organization and the skill level of his fellow players.
“I’m enjoying playing with talented players,” Ushu said through his interpreter Taka Shirai. “I haven’t really played with top players like this in Japan. I’m really learning and I want to improve my hockey skills.”
|Mei Ushu skates at Islanders Mini-Camp held at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday, July 13, 2011. |
Ushu has that chance to improve thanks in part to Shirai, who has ties with the Islanders organization from when he was a past intern. The friends have known each other for about three years now as Ushu attends Waseda University, located in Shinjuko, Tokyo – also Shirai’s alma mater.
Shirai, a former hockey player himself, said he can see Ushu’s excitement.
“He’s really enjoying this experience,” Shirai said. “It’s definitely a different environment than he’s used to, but you can tell he’s very excited. He’s one of the best Japanese players for his age, but these players here are better or as good as him so it’s good competition for him.”
Ushu, a defenseman, started playing hockey at age seven and has since gone on to play for the under-18 and under-20 Japanese National Teams and traveled to Belarus, Italy and Latvia for games. He captained the U-20 team last year before starting his Japanese collegiate career at Waseda. This fall, he will enter his sophomore season and continue to major in sports sciences.
With so many talented players from across the world at mini-camp, the language barriers can sometimes make communication difficult, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Ushu. Though he speaks very little English, he said it’s all about how you play the game on the ice.
“I can’t really speak much English, but hockey language is how we speak to each other,” he said through Japanese translation. “I’m gradually making friends and trying to communicate with all of them.”
Those friendships were apparent as Ushu skated and laughed with Islanders prospects Corey Trivino
and David Ullstrom
after their skate Thursday afternoon.
“I was just playing around with the puck and Corey after practice,” Ushu said. “We were having some fun. I’m having fun here, too.”
|Mei Ushu poses against the glass with his translator and friend Taka Shirai at Islanders Mini-Camp held at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday, July 13, 2011. |
With this trip being his first to Long Island, Ushu does not want it to be his last. Just like all of the prospects this week, his goal is to make it to the NHL and represent the Islanders someday. He’s only watched NHL games on the Internet, but he said that’s not going to deter him from trying to make it to the league.
“I can only watch American hockey games from NHL.com in Japan,” he said. “It’s a great league and my dream is to play in it.”
Playing for the Islanders would make that dream even better.
“I want to keep putting on this jersey,” Ushu said with a smile referencing his Isles practice jersey. “It’s so exciting to be here, so I would be even more excited to play here. I would be honored. It would be great to stay and play here.”