Asia League finally back
by Martin Merk|22 OCT 2022
Asia League action between Korean club HL Anyang and Japanese team East Hokkaido Cranes on the opening day of the league.
photo: ALIH
The Asia League Ice Hockey is back after a more than two-year long halt due to closed borders in Asia and to the joy of many ice hockey fans in Japan and Korea who have long waited to get ice hockey back to normality after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2022/2023 season started on 3 September with teams from Japan and Korea and the regular season will continue until 5 March. The playoffs are scheduled for 9-26 March with best-of-three semi-finals and a best-of-five final to determine the best club team in the Far East.

“Five Japanese teams and one Korean team will vie for supremacy in the 2022/2023 season, playing 120 regular-season league games in Japan and Korea. In March, the top teams in the regular league will clash in a dramatic playoff to determine the champion,” said Asia League Ice Hockey Chairman Yoshiaki Takeda, inviting sports fans to watch the ice hockey games in Japan and Korea.

“Ice hockey is a fascinating game to watch with its speedy game development and powerful body checks. The players on each team have prepared for the season and are ready to show a great game.”

The league originally started in 2003/2004 and during that period has involved teams from China, Japan, Korea and from the Russian island of Sakhalin competing for supremacy in East Asia. The league provides the base for the men’s national teams from Japan and Korea at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I.

Only in two seasons that were played was it not possible to hand the trophy. In 2011 the earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region during the playoff final series and the Tohoku Free Blades and Anyang Halla were named co-champions. Similarly, the final series had to be cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic with Anyang Halla and PSK Sakhalin named co-champions.

Rigid travel rules in East Asia made it impossible to play the league for the 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 seasons. The Japanese team competed amongst each other for the Asia League Ice Hockey Japan Cup instead.

Now the league is officially back with a return of cross-border rivalries although for now only one of the Korean teams will participate, HL Anyang (formerly competing as Anyang Halla). The five Japanese teams are the Red Eagles Hokkaido, East Hokkaido Cranes, Tohoku Free Blades, Nikko Ice Bucks and Yokohama Grits.

Games in Korea will be played in Anyang, a satellite city of Seoul bordering with the capital city. In Japan games are planned at various venues including Asahikawa, Hachinohe, Kushiro, Nikko, Obihiro, Sapporo, Shin-Yokohama and Tomakomai.

For the relaunch of the competition the Asia League launched a streaming platform on (in Japanese) with a paid streaming service as well as free content including game highlights.

So far HL Anyang and the Red Eagles Hokkaido had the best start into the season with a 12-2 and 9-3 record respectively. Anyang’s Sangwook Kim leads the lead in scoring with 23 points (6+17), one more than the Red Eagles’ Shogo Nakajima (5+17=22), while his brother Kisung Kim is the top goal scorer with 11 goals, one more than Nikko’s Kento Suzuki with 10.

Compared to the past, most teams work with players from their countries with only three exceptions. The Yokohama Grits have two American import players in centre Alex Rauter and defender Tim Shoup, and the Nikko Ice Bucks have Canadian goalkeeper Roman Bengert sharing the net with long-time Japanese national team goalie Yutaka Fukufuji.

This weekend the top-two teams Anyang and Red Eagles Hokkaido will meet each other in Anyang for back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday with IIHF President Luc Tardif, who is currently on a working visit in Korea, in attendance for a ceremonial puck drop in Saturday’s game.