Shiga in Red w Puck

William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog since 2012. Douglas joined in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, as part of's celebration of Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, he profiles PWHL Ottawa forward Akane Shiga, a top player on Japan’s women’s national team who became the PWHL’s first Japan-born player.

NEWARK, N.J. -- Akane Shiga said she didn’t have high hopes for playing in the Professional Women’s Hockey League this season after she wasn’t chosen in the league’s inaugural draft in September.

But that didn’t stop one of Japan’s top women’s players from traveling 6,000 miles to North America to attend a PWHL training camp in Ottawa in November as an invitee with no guarantees.

The 23-year-old forward from Obihiro, Japan, performed so well during the camp, she became the league's first Japan-born player, one of the youngest in the league, and landed with PWHL Ottawa.

“It was more so just the mindset that she had nothing to lose,” Shiga’s interpreter, Madoka Suzuki, said. “She’s always wanted to come try to play in North America, it’s something she’s never done before, and it was always in the back of her mind. So she wanted to at least give it a shot, see what happens. Fortunately, everything worked out.”

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Shiga had two goals in 24 games with Ottawa, but her coach and teammates say her season was about more than getting on the scoresheet. It was a period of adjustment, getting accustomed to a different style of play, different foods and navigating a different language.

“For anyone that’s gone into a world where your native tongue is not being spoken, you realize how much adjustment is required,” Ottawa coach Carla MacLeod said. “There’s a bravery there, there’s a confidence there that’s really impressive.

“It’s one thing to even go within your own country to a new opportunity, but to travel across the ocean and find your way shows how courageous she is. She’s inspiring not only to us, but I imagine to the young girls at home.”

Shiga quickly endeared herself with her teammates, who were impressed by the path she took to the PWHL -- and by her shot.

“We call it the ‘Shiga Shot,’ Ottawa forward Emily Clark said. “It’s such an incredible, strong shot. It’s also incredibly accurate. It’s so effortless and so hard. I see her in the gym after workouts, working on her grip strength, her forearm strength.”

That sort of focus has helped make Shiga (5-foot-5, 134 pounds) her nation's top women’s player. She led Japan with five points (two goals, three assists) in five games at the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Utica, New York, in April.

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She had three points (two goals, one assist) in five games at the 2022 Beijing Olympics and led Japan in scoring at the 2022 IIHF women’s worlds with five points (three goals, two assists) in seven games.

“She’s very speedy, she’s got a very unique shot, a really, really lethal weapon when she finds time and space to get it off,” said MacLeod, who was an assistant on Japan’s 1998 women’s Olympic team. “We got to watch her at the world championship with Japan again, and you can see the growth she’s made in the handful of months in the PWHL.”

Shiga began her hockey journey when she was 6, skating with her older sister Aoi, who is a defenseman for Japan and HC Ladies Lugano in the Swiss Women’s Hockey League A.

Inspired after seeing the Japanese women’s team perform at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Akane Shiga made Japan’s Under-18 team that won the gold medal at the 2016 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship Division I and has been a fixture on the national team since.

Coming to North America, Shiga has had to adjust from having a starring role with Japan to being a role player on an Ottawa team that included Clark, who won Olympic gold (2022 Beijing Olympics) and silver (2018 Pyeongchang Olympics) medals with Canada; forward Haley Scamurra, who won silver with the United States in Beijing; and forward Brianne Jenner, who won two gold medals (2014, Sochi, 2022, Beijing) and one silver (2018, Pyeongchang).

“She’s getting there," MacLeod said. "She’s one of the youngest players in the league. She works hard in practice. She’s got a unique skill set so it’s just finding that confidence to let that skill set shine.”

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Sometimes it took a little messaging to bring it out. Shiga played 3:59 in Ottawa’s 3-2 home shootout win against Boston at TD Place on April 24 and never left the bench in a 2-0 home loss to Montreal on April 27.

After speaking with the coaching staff afterward, Shiga scored a first-period goal in Ottawa’s 4-3 loss to New York at Prudential Center on April 30.

“She faced a little bit of adversity in recent games but got herself an opportunity ... and took advantage of it,” MacLeod said. “She’s a gifted hockey player and I’m pleased for her that she had that opportunity and capitalized on it.”

Shiga said she enjoyed her first season in North America, especially playing in front of large crowds like the 13,736 fans who watched Boston defeat Ottawa 2-1 in a shootout at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on March 16.

After betting on her chances of making it in North America, Shiga “wants to play in this league as long as I can,” she said through Suzuki.

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