Oji Eagles top in Japan
by James Armstrong|28 MAR 2021
The Oji Eagles won the championship following their game against the Nikko IceBucks.
photo: Oji Eagles
The Oji Eagles of the Asia League Ice Hockey have clinched the Japan Cup, adding to an impressive haul of championship titles that solidifies their position as the most successful team in Japanese ice hockey.

Seiji Takahashi scored with just over a minute left in overtime as the Eagles beat the Nikko IceBucks 4-3 on March 20 to wrap up the title with two games left in the competition.

The team based in Tomakomai on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido has won the Japan League 13 times, the All-Japan Championship 36 times and the Asia League 2 times, by far the most successful record in Japanese professional ice hockey.

The Japan Cup was contested among Japan’s five professional ice hockey teams this year as travel restrictions due to Covid-19 prevented teams from Korea and Russia from taking part in the Asia League’s regular season.

“It was great that we could come together as a team during these difficult times,” said Oji defenceman Takafumi Yamashita. “Hopefully we can use this victory to build on momentum for next season.”

In Saturday’s game at Dydo Drinco Ice Arena in western Tokyo, the two teams exchanged goals before Nikko’s Takuto Gorai tied the contest with under five minutes remaining to send it into overtime.

Canadian Tyler Redenbach had a strong game for Oji with a goal and two assists.

The win gave Oji an impressive 18-4 record in the abbreviated season. The team celebrated with a victory ceremony following their home game against the Yokohama Grits on 28 March.

Oji took a 1-0 lead late in the first period when Yuto Osawa beat former NHL goalie Yutaka Fukufuji late in a 5-on-3 power play.

Nikko equalized on another 5-on-3 late in the first period when Hiroto Sato’s shot from the point beat Oji goaltender Drew MacIntyre.

Redenbach restored the lead for Oji 6:34 into the second period, taking advantage of a bad turnover in the Nikko defensive zone and firing into a wide-open net to make it 2-1.

But the lead didn’t last long. Makuru Furuhashi tied it just 20 seconds later when he picked up a rebound off a shot from the point and beat MacIntyre high glove side.

Takahashi gave Oji a 3-2 lead midway through the third with a shot from the face-off circle that beat Fukufuji high on the stick side. 

With just 4 minutes and 43 seconds left, Gorai sent it into overtime with a backhand from a sharp angle over the shoulder of MacIntrye.

Takahashi secured the win with just over a minute remaining in the 3-on-3 overtime when he beat Fukufuji from close range after taking a perfect feed from Redenbach on a 2-on-1 break.

There was a scary moment early in overtime when MacIntyre took a shot to the throat area and had to leave the game. Oji backup goalie Yuta Narisawa came in and finished the game for the visitors.

With today's end of the season, long-time national team captain Go Tanaka of the Tohoku Free Blades ended his career.