Eleven-year-old Japanese hockey player Aito Iguchi was a viral sensation before stepping onto the ice at Nassau Coliseum this past week. Iguchi’s slick moves and head-turning skill was picked up by Yahoo! Sports and Deadspin long before he hit the ice for the 2015 Lighthouse International Tournament.
He didn’t disappoint when he touched down in North America, scoring 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in three games, leading the Nikko Jr. Ice Bucks to a gold medal.
“I know that I’m being looked at, so I want to play accordingly so that I meet the expectations,” Iguchi said through translator Tak Mihara. “I played very well, actually, better than usual. If I had to rate myself, it would be an A-plus.”
Jr. Ice Bucks Head Coach Nobumasa Kinugasa selected Iguchi for the team from a pool of over 100 players at a skills camp sponsored by the Ice Bucks senior team. Iguchi played a key role in picking up wins over Ilves (Finland), Dr. Loupe (Japan) and Harbin (China) en route to a first place finish. Nikko outscored opponents 32-4 in the tournament.
So how did Iguchi, who hails from a non-traditional hockey country, become this good? Like most youth hockey players, Iguchi started playing hockey at five years old and practiced imitating top NHL players from highlights online and occasionally streaming games.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH AITO'S HIGHLIGHTS ON YAHOO! SPORTS
“The reason I started playing was because my father was playing ice hockey,” Iguchi said. “I look at all the NHL players videos, and I take time, starting off with just stickhandling, and then go into shooting in strides. I do a lot of that.”
Alternate captain Ikki Kogawa, who finished with 11 points in the tournament, including a hat trick in a 10-2 win over Harbin in the championship game, also played a big role in the Ice Bucks championship, as did team captain Teppei Ueno. The Lighthouse tournament provided a chance for these high-end Japanese players to play together, as they have separate teams back home.
“[Iguchi and I] don’t normally play on the same team together, but when we do play, we pass well together and score a lot of goals,” Ueno said.
Iguchi said he relished the chance to play against international competition and add new experiences and challenges to his budding hockey career.
“I’m very much looking forward to playing strong teams from all over the world,” Iguchi said. “All the players are very skilled, and it’s something that I forward to.”
With the hockey world now paying attention, Iguchi hopes to continue improving as a hockey player and progress through the ranks with one goal in mind, to become only the second player born and trained in Japan to play in the NHL.
Stay on the lookout for Aito Iguchi.