Tuesday, Jul 26, 2016
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High School

Japanese exchange student scores as member of Springfield team

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Springfield's Joji Inami might be new to hockey, but he is familiar with baseball.


Joji Inami owned a pair of rollerblades long before arriving to the United States from Japan last summer.

But the Springfield foreign exchange student had never slipped on a pair of ice skates before deciding he wanted to play on the Blue Devils hockey team this season.

It didn't take him long to realize that rollerblading down a straight, smooth bike path doesn't compare to skating quickly around an ice rink with others, pushing and shoving and trying to gain control of a hockey puck.

But Inami loved the challenge.

“I like hockey and I wanted to play ice hockey,” said Inami, donning a replica Detroit Red Wings jersey during a recent Springfield practice at the Tam O'Shanter sports complex in Sylvania.

Inami, 17, is a long way from being considered one of the Blue Devils' best players. Besides just learning how to skate on ice, he also has had to learn the basic rules and fundamentals of hockey.

Butch Leon, Springfield's longtime hockey coach, believes the latest foreign exchange student to play on his team has made steady strides since the start of the season. Particularly since Inami isn't fluent in English.


Springfield's Joji Inami might be new to hockey, but he is familiar with baseball.


“When he started out he could hardly skate,” Leon said. “But every time he gets out there he hustles. He's not quite at the level of the others, but he gives 100 percent all the time.”

Zach Boulton, a freshman, plays alongside Inami on Springfield's fourth line. Boulton was one of the players who helped bring Inami along early in the season with his skating hockey fundamentals.

For weeks, crashing into the boards or gradually slowing his speed until he came to a halt served as Inami's ways to stop.

From Boulton's standpoint, it's like night and day when considering Inami's progress over the last four months.

“He's come a long way,” Boulton said. “He couldn't stop and he would trip around on the ice a lot. Now he can skate without any problems.”

Springfield, which will face Maumee in its final league match tomorrow, is 3-15 this year - one of the worst seasons for the Blue Devils during Leon's 21 years as coach.

Inami, a junior, certainly hasn't been able to lift the team to success, but he has been inspirational.

One of the team's most memorable moments of the season came last week when Inami finally scored a goal. It came in a 12-2 loss to Whitmer, and it evoked cheers from his coaches and teammates despite another disappointing defeat.

“You should have seen him when he scored that goal,” Leon said. “It was like he had just won a Stanley Cup.”

Boulton, who was credited with an assist on Inami's goal, witnessed a side of his normally subdued teammate he hadn't seen all season.

“He held his arms up and was really happy and then started jumping around,” Boulton recalled.

Inami won't forget the moment anytime soon.

“I'm happy (about the goal), but we lost.”

Inami, who has a twin brother Yuji, will return to Japan after this school year. He looks forward to seeing family members and telling them of his experiences in the United States. He'll return home more familiar with hockey.

However, he's not expecting his hockey season to sum up his athletic experience at Springfield. Inami intends to play baseball - a sport he grew up playing. Watch for him at shortstop for the Blue Devils this spring.

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