Cullen Maksimowski, LSSULakers.com
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich.— With the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships under way, Lake Superior State Hockey's freshman forward, Yuki Miura, has been called upon to represent his native country of Japan on an international stage.
Competing in Group B of the IIHF Division 1 round robin tournament in Lithuania, Miura and Team Japan are competing against the likes of Estonia, Romania, Croatia and Ukraine. Each team plays each opponent once. The winning team of the event will be promoted to the Division I Group A, which takes place May 4-20 in Denmark. The last-ranked team will be relegated to Division II Group A.
"We're excited for Yuki's opportunity to represent his country at the World Championships," said Lake Superior State coach Damon Whitten. "He's worked extremely hard to earn this opportunity and its a huge honor that I know is very important to him. As one of the youngest players there, he is off to a great start and this will be a great opportunity for his continued development, both at international levels and here at Lake State."
Team Japan is 2-1 so far with wins over Estonia (2-1) and Croatia (4-3) before falling to Lithuania (1-6) on Wednesday. Japan is currently in third-place among the group with 5 points trailing Lithuania (9) and Estonia (7) and are scheduled to play Romania on Friday.
Through three games, Miura has recorded two assists and shares the team lead in efficiency with a plus-three rating.
We were able to catch up with Yuki between games to ask him a few questions about his experience. Here is what he had to say:
Q: How has the experience been for you so far? (Training, level of competition, teammates etc.)
Miura: It's been a wonderful experience so far. We had a camp for three weeks before the tournament so I think our teamwork is really good. All of us trust each other and we have really good communication. Our team goal is clear (Winning all games and get back to the Div.1 group A). We had a two-week camp in Tomakomai, Japan, then moved to Hungary for a week to prepare for the world championships. We had two exhibition games against Hungary and Poland. We lost both games but it was close so now we are confident that we can have good result if we play the right way. The level of competition is not too different but is still challenging because all of the countries in our group have a couple star players who have played in NHL, KHL and other top leagues in Europe. I think the games against Lithuania and Ukraine will be the most important to win the tournament. I am really excited about it. All my teammates are great. I am the only guy from overseas team but they welcomed me warmly so I am really comfortable to be a part of this team. I deeply appreciate all of my LSSU coaches, professors and teammates for allowing me to go to the World Championship.
Q: You haven't been able to spend much time in Japan these last few years while playing in the states. What was it like for you to return and train in Japan?
Miura: It's really fun to play hockey in Japan. Everything is different from North American or the Czech. One of the fun parts about hockey for me is to experience various styles. Team Japan's concept is "Fast Hockey" so I want to help team using my speed but there are still many players who can skate faster than me on the team. I've realized that I am so proud to be a Laker. Of course it is fun to play in Japan but on the other hand, I really miss my teammates too. I wish I could show them how great Japanese food is.
Q: How do you feel your experiences with American hockey the last couple years have prepared you for this opportunity?
Miura: My experiences with American hockey are helping me so much. American hockey is faster, harder and heavier than the other leagues and the rink size are smaller than European rink so you have to make a play quickly. I also learned how important it is to shoot the puck after I came to the USA. Japanese players tend to pass when they can shoot to the net so I've tried to express that mentality to the team. Also having a heaviness on the puck during faceoffs, winning 1-on-1 battles and blocking shots as well. Everything I've learned in waterloo and LSSU has made me more confident in my preparation for the World Championships. I will be trying to be a team-first player like we do a Lake State.
Q: What does it mean to you personally to be representing your country on such a big stage?
Miura: Representing my country is really special for me. My father played in Nagano Olympics in 1998 and he has been teaching me to be proud to fight for your country since I was child. It was one of my dreams to wear team Japan's jersey so I am glad that my dream came true. I appreciate all of people who has helped me along the way. My family, friend's teammates, coaches, fans and so on. I would like to return the favor for them. I could not become national team player without them. The easiest way to return the favor is leading Team Japan to a win and I think that is my biggest job. At the same time, I have never forgotten that I am representing LSSU hockey when I am playing outside of USA. I want to show people how great of a school LSSU is both on and off the ice through my behavior. I want to enjoy this special moment and want to help team japan to come back to Div.1 group A. I believe that we can make it.
Q: How do you think this overall experience will help you when you return to Lake State?
Miura: I think all of these experiences I am having will help me after I come back to LSSU. It is a really rare chance to play with and against professional hockey players. Almost all of these guys are older than me and they have a lot of experience. I think they know how to prepare and play for the game. I want to learn those things from this tournament and want to take advantage of my experience. I am blessed that I can experience both college hockey and international hockey. I would like to say thank you to LSSU, my coaches and my teammates for giving me such a great opportunity.