TOKYO – A remarkable career on the IIHF Council will come to an end for Shoichi Tomita in his hometown of Tokyo. IIHF.com talked to the outgoing Vice President, who will retire from the IIHF’s board.
Known under his Japanese form of address Tomita-san, or less formal as Sho, the 76-year-old former Japanese national team goalie is the longest-serving member of the current IIHF Council.
As a player he was a goalie in the Japanese top league for 15 years and represented his country at the 1960 Olympic Winter Games and at the 1962 IIHF World Championship B-Pool before becoming the Management Director and later the Executive Director of the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation and a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee.
He was elected to the IIHF Council in 1978 as its first Asian member and became IIHF Vice President in 1994.
Honouring his 34 years of work and dedication for the IIHF, the General Congress will be held in Tokyo, the first time ever that an IIHf Congress has been held in Asia. IIHF.com spoke to him before his emotional farewell.
Tell us a bit about how you grew up in Japan to become a top ice hockey goalie in the country.
I was born in Tokyo. During the six years of the elementary school we moved to five different places due to World War II.
Tokyo was seen as very dangerous, so we had to move to Yokohama, but there’s a harbour, so we had to move again. Eventually we were close to Mount Fuji and then I went to Tokyo again and then to a countryside school. But in the countryside many boys were not happy about getting colleagues from Tokyo.
Most of the countryside kids were not so friendly to me. We had a very special image, we were dressed differently, the habits were Tokyo-style. When we go to the countryside it’s strange for the local people. I don’t have happy memories from the time I was 8, 9, 10 years old.
Therefore I liked to show the people something. I told myself that one day I want to show them who I am. That’s why I never quit practising hockey while most of the Tokyo players stopped.
I tried to do my best, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink much alcohol, I went home early. I didn’t want to have any excuses.
I played for one of the Tokyo clubs, but there was not so much practice time, so I also practised with two, three other teams. There were not so many goalies, so I had a good chance to join.
How did your career continue after the difficult beginning?
I was the only guy from Tokyo on the national team while all others were from Hokkaido. But I believe in God. God decides about who will be on the national team. My career was unbelievable sometimes. I was on the All-Star Team of the universities and won the championship and one of the professional teams came to me and asked me to come to Hokkaido. I went there and played four years there and won the all-Japanese championship.
That gave me the chance to play for the national team at the 1960 Olympic Winter Games and the 1962 World Championship B-Pool in Colorado Springs where we beat all five teams [Austria, France, Netherlands, Australia, Denmark] to win the group.
How was it to go to the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley?
I remember that the figure skaters and skiers could go to Squaw Valley by plane. Not so the hockey team. We were too many and the budget was too small. So they were thinking whether we should participate or not. Fortunately, the Japanese-Canadian Society invited us to Canada to have a camp there.
We went from Yokohama to Vancouver by boat. It took us two weeks, and there were many waves. We had training on the deck. I remember how the managers said as we’re the Japanese national team we have to wear our tie every morning, at lunch, in the evening. So for two weeks each player had just one tie, and they became dirty because of the soup. I have many memories from the trip to Vancouver and the games we played in British Columbia.
After the camp we went to California to play at the Olympics. The first games were against Canada and Sweden. They were too strong. After the two games we moved to the outdoor ice rinks with lots of sunshine for the placement games. My skin became much darker. We played against Australia and Finland. Finland wasn’t so strong in those days, it was more Canada, the U.S., the Soviets, Czechoslovakia who played for the medals.
I’m impressed how much Finland has improved since. They have lots of programs for kids, juniors, for coaches and goalies. We have to study how countries like Finland or Switzerland have improved in the last decades. We have a bigger population and a bigger economy, so we should try to achieve something like Switzerland, or Norway, or Finland in Japan.
Did your participation as a player in international hockey also influence you for your further career?
Yes. I remember in Colorado Springs that Tumba Johansson was on the Swedish team while we played in the B-Pool. I always stayed in contact with him, went to his golf tournaments and made many contacts through ice hockey, and many more later within the IIHF. I really appreciate the time in the IIHF. Without the IIHF I wouldn’t have such a bright life. I wouldn’t know so many great people if I had just focused on study and business. It would have been an ordinary, boring life.
How was it when you were elected to the IIHF Council?
In 1978 I was elected at the General Congress in Sirmione. It was unbelievable. The Swiss nominated two people [Held, Tratschin], so their votes were split and I had more votes than them, so I was elected. Fortunately I have stayed in the IIHF Council since then. It was like a fairy tale, a young Asian coming to the IIHF. Nobody believed it and I couldn’t believe it myself. [IIHF President] Günther Sabetzki came to me and asked when I start the champagne party. But then it was true, and I got the jacket and high-neck shirts for the Council members. When I see the photo of the Council in 1978, only Gordon Renwick from Canada and myself are still alive, all others passed away. I must keep myself in good health, otherwise I will also disappear from the picture.
How did you react after the election had surprised even yourself?
It was an unbelievable thing. I had to study, study, study. I didn’t know that much about how it works within the IIHF. Only the strong countries were carrying the work and making the decisions. I had to learn and to understand a lot. At some day I recorded the whole meeting and listened to it again to understand everything. I didn’t understand everything at the beginning, but I knew ice hockey, I knew the problems and had the experience, therefore I was able to communicate with everybody. But in the first few years I was so afraid.
Now Thomas Wu from Hong Kong will come to the IIHF Council from Asia and will be in a similar situation. He’s also new and young. I hope I can provide him some help and that he gets support from all Asian countries, otherwise it won’t be easy for him. He’s a nice guy. He has good business and hockey background. He studied in the United States and he speaks Chinese, English and even Japanese.
To be published on Monday: Part II – Tomita talks about his career in the IIHF and how he wants to help Japanese ice hockey in the new stage of his life.