Tochigi, Japan isn’t exactly a hockey hotbed. There are rarely live games on TV, save for events like the Olympics, meaning NHL.com is the primary gateway into the hockey world. Due to the time change, Islanders games start at 8 a.m.
But that hasn’t stopped Tochigi native Yuri Terao from playing his favorite sport of hockey. Terao scored 11 points (3G, 8A) in five games at the U-18 World Championship Division 1 Tournament two years ago and was named the Best Forward of the tournament that same year. Terao earned an invite to the Islanders Mini Camp this week on Long Island and made the 6,700 mile (as the crow flies) journey, because there are just some invitations you can’t turn down.
“It’s been so much fun (being here),” Terao said through translator Taka Shirai. “I’ve been learning a lot from the coaches.”
With so many hockey resources at his disposal during camp, Terao has soaked up the opportunity on Long Island. Here, he’s been developing his game with NHL coaches and top junior prospects like Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock.
“He has played extremely well this week,” Islanders Head of Player Development Eric Cairns said. “He’s got some nice skill. It was a really good opportunity for him to come over here and take this experience as a measuring stick – to see what he can and can’t do against really good competition – and take that knowledge back to his game wherever he goes next.”
This kind of instruction is not readily available in Japan. Terao’s father put him in skates at age two, but there are just few rinks in his homeland and only one Japanese player – former LA Kings goalie Yutaka Fukufjui – who has ever made the NHL. Terao’s brother Hiromichi skated at the Isles Mini Camp two years ago, but there is not a lot of public exposure to the game and a less-developed apparatus for sending players to the North American leagues.
“Compared to the United States, there are not many hockey rinks or much public support for hockey,” Terao’s translator Taka Shirai, said. “It’s not the best environment, but Terao is trying to play as much as possible.”
The language barrier is the biggest obstacle for Terao at this week’s camp. He has Shirai to translate for him off the ice, but on the ice and in the gym, he has to rely on what he sees and communicate through body language.
“We get him to watch the other players and emulate what they do,” Eric Cairns said. “He seemed to have a positive response back and really good body language. He has come to work every day and his effort level is great.”
Terao’s family and friends were able to watch him during the Blue and White Scrimmage via a live stream on NewYorkIslanders.com. There’s a long road ahead to grow the game in Japan, but an emerging local star could start warming the embers in Tochigi.