International Ice Hockey Federation

Clarkson Cup inspiration

Clarkson Cup inspiration

Japanese players fired up after success in CWHL

Published 29.03.2016 04:40 GMT-7 | Author Kristen Lipscombe
Clarkson Cup inspiration
Japanese defenceman Aina Takeuchi hopes the experiences of her and some teammates in North America will lead to better results for her team in the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
For defenceman Aina Takeuchi, hoisting the Clarkson Cup high above her head alongside her Calgary Inferno teammates was “the best memory of my life”.

This especially after all the hard work it took on and off the ice to reach that pinnacle moment for the Japanese player.

Takeuchi, 24, and fellow blueliner Kanae Aoki, 31, made history this past 13 March, not just by helping the Calgary Inferno claim their first-ever Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship title with an 8-3 win over Les Canadiennes de Montreal, but also by becoming the first Japanese players to lift the cup.

“It was (a) totally different experience,” Aoki, who started playing hockey at age eight in her hometown of Tomakomai, said of defeating three-time champions Montreal in order to claim that sparkling trophy.

“I have won many leagues in Japan,” she told “However, I have never celebrated as much as the Clarkson Cup. It was very amazing for me that (so) many people are interested in women’s hockey here in Canada.”

The Inferno actually trailed the Canadiennes during the 2015/16 regular season, coming in second place with a 16-0-0-1-1-6 record for Calgary, compared to a 20-0-1-0-0-3 record for first-place Montreal.

“My team has a lot of great player(s), so I thought we could win the game,” Aoki, who also first picked up a stick at age eight on the island of Hokkaido, said of the final CWHL face-off between the season’s two top teams, adding the Inferno girls are equally as great people.

The CWHL just wrapped up its ninth season, and its championship trophy, named after former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson, has long-been regarded as the Stanley Cup of women’s hockey.

Although that notion is being challenged by the creation of the National Women’s Hockey League and its Isobel Cup this past season, as far as Takeuchi is concerned, she gets to play in Canada alongside “the greatest teammates ever”, adding they are also like friends and family members.

“I learned so many things from them and I’m really proud of this group,” Takeuchi said.

“I’m sure this league is the highest level in the world,” she said, pointing to the skill, power and speed not just of the Calgary Inferno, but of all fives CWHL teams. That also includes the Boston Blades, Brampton Thunder, Les Canadiennes (formerly the Montreal Stars) and the Toronto Furies.

“Playing in the CWHL with and against some of the world’s best players helps me improve,” Takeuchi said.

“I believe (the) CWHL is one of the top leagues in the world and I am glad that I could play in the environment,” Aoki agreed.

Of course, it wasn’t an easy decision to just pack up, pick up and move to the other side of the world, just to play hockey with a bunch of Canadian women who probably only knew a handful of Japanese words.

Aoki and Takeuchi admit that two-time Olympic gold medallist Carla MacLeod may have had more than a little influence on that decision. The Canada’s National Women’s Team alumna from Calgary has served as assistant coach for the Japanese national women’s team, leading the underdogs dubbed “Smile Japan” to their first-ever Olympic appearance at Sochi 2014.

“After (the) Sochi Games, I thought, in order for me to be the best I can be and improve, I would have to move away and play with and against the best,” Takeuchi said.

“That’s why I (was) playing hockey in Canada,” she said. “Also, Carla MacLeod helped me to play hockey with (the) Calgary Inferno.”

Aoki similarly replies: “I heard this team is very good but it was mostly the influence of Carla.”

Although Aoki won’t be representing Japan at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship this week in Kamloops, she has plenty of international experience, including at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and at three world championships.

She believes that playing alongside Canadian teammates, and under the instruction of experienced coaches such as MacLeod, along with Inferno assistant coach Gina Kingsbury, who is also a two-time Olympic gold medallist, and head coach Scott Reid, husband to current Team Canada veteran Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid, is vital to growing the women’s game in her home country.

“Japan does not have the best environment for the team and players to train and practise; however, we have become a team that can compete with the world,” Aoki pointed out.

Takeuchi will once again be wearing the black, red and white of her country’s jersey at this year’s world championship, with Japan ranked eighth in the world heading into round-robin play. The top-five teams following the 2016 Women’s Worlds qualify for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, Korea, with the two remaining spots to be determined by additional qualifiers.

Japanese teammates Sena Suzuki, who plays defence for the Toronto Furies, as well as goaltender Nana Fujimoto of the NWHL’s New York Riveters, will also be lacing up their skates this week in Kamloops.

Takeuchi, who has played at three Women’s World Championship events in addition to Sochi 2014, is confident that what she has learned from her Clarkson Cup winning season with the Calgary Inferno will help Japan continue to move up in the women’s hockey world.

“We will showcase our team at this World Championship,” she said.

Japan joins the Czech Republic, Sweden and Switzerland in Group B, and lost its first game against Switzerland on Monday 4-2 at the McArthur Island Centre.

Japan also takes on Sweden on Tuesday and the Czech Republic on Thursday to finish off their preliminary action play at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Kamloops.


Back to Overview