TOKYO – The Japanese Ice Hockey Federation named Yuji Iwamoto head coach of the Japanese men’s national team. He’s the first home-grown coach to lead the squad in two decades. He takes over after the Japanese have missed out on getting back to the Division I Group A level two months ago at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Belfast losing the deciding game against home team Great Britain.
With their new coach the Japanese want to form a team that can get back to a higher level of play.
“There is a long way to go before the men play at Olympics, but we will build a brand-new team that should meet the expectations to succeed,” Iwamoto said. “I want to take advantage of our speed. I want to play aggressive hockey on defence and offence. I want to choose players with self-sacrifice who put the team first.”
Iwamoto is the first Japan-born coach for the men’s national team since Masaru Seino, who coached the team when it was back in the top division for the 1998 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Zurich and Basel, Switzerland. Japanese-Canadian Steve Tsujiura during the following four years, Timo Tuomi for one year, Mark Mahon for 12 years and Greg Thomson during the last two seasons were coaching the men’s team afterwards.
Born in 1962 in Tomakomai on the northern island of Hokkaido, Iwamoto spent all his career as a forward with Yukijirushi Sapporo (also known as “Snow Brand” in English). He played 604 games (239 goals, 263 assists) in 20 years in the Japanese Ice Hockey League and represented Japan in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship B-Pool in 1989, 1990 and 1994.
Iwamoto started his career as a coach while still playing and was a player-coach for the last two seasons with Yukijirushi. He later had roles as assistant coach of the Japanese U20 and U18 national teams and was the head coach of the U20 national team for three years (2007-2010). In 2009 he led the team to Division II gold and a fifth-place finish in the Division I tournament the following year and 21st overall, at that time the best placement in six years for a Japanese U20 team.
He later moved to North America to work as an assistant coach in the junior league NAHL for the Motor City Metal Jackets and the Jamestown Ironmen before returning to Japan as head coach of the Nikko Ice Bucks in the Asia League for the past four seasons.
Japan played in the top division of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in 1930, 1957 and from 1998 to 2004 when one Far East qualifier was set for the tournament and has performed at Division I Group A level until 2016 when the team from the land of the rising sun was relegated following a winless campaign at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Katowice, Poland. The Japanese men’s national team also played at the Olympics eight times, most recently as host nation in Nagano 1998.
With Iwamoto the Japanese want to secure their return to the Division I Group A at the second attempt when the team will compete at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas with Ukraine, host Lithuania, Estonia, Croatia and Romania as competitors for first place and promotion to the second-highest level of international play.