TOKYO – The Nippon Paper Cranes from Kushiro won the Asian league in a thrilling final series which went to seven games.
The Paper Cranes were only fourth in the regular season but in the semi-final they got in shape. The Korean team Anyang Halla was the first non-Japanese regular-season winner in the Asian League and began the series with a 6-2 win on home ice but the Paper Cranes fought back.
Anyang had the chance to win it as they were leading the series 3-2 after five games and the two remaining matches were on home ice but Anyang lost both games. Yoshinori Imura scored the game-winning goal of the last game 59:43.
The Seibu Prince Rabbits Tokyo beat title-holder Oji Eagles Tomakomai 4-0 in the other semi-final.
Nippon took the lead in the final series, 3-1, but Seibu equalized and had the deciding game on home ice. However, Nippon won. Darcy Mitani, Masahito Nishiwaki and Masatoshi Ito scored for a 3-0 lead. Seibu captain Takahito Suzuki cut the lead with his two goals but the score remained 3-2 until the final buzzer in front of 2,084 spectators.
Paper Cranes goalie Hisashi Ishikawa was named the MVP of the playoffs after his performance with a 91.6 save percentage, the highest in the post-season. His coach Koji Aizawa was named the coach of the year
Four Paper Cranes players shared the top of the scoring stats with 21 points: Kengo and Masatoshi Ito, Masahito Nishiwaki and Chris Yule, a Canada-born Team Japan veteran.
1. Nippon Paper Cranes Kushiro (JPN)
2. Seibu Prince Rabbits Tokyo (JPN)
3. Anyang Halla (KOR)
4. Oji Eagles Tomakomai (JPN)
5. High1 Chuncheon (KOR)
6. China Sharks Shanghai (CHN)
7. Nikko Ice Bucks (JPN)