The Calgary Inferno will play two exhibition games in Tomokomai, Japan this weekend against the Japanese Women’s National Team. Two Calgary players will don the opposing colors. Alberta-born Akane Hosoyamada will join her teammate, Japanese Olympian and second-year Inferno defender Aina Takeuchi as a member of Team Japan.
Known locally as the MK Trust Smile Japan Challenge Match, the two games take place just a week before Team Japan vies for the final place at the PyeongChang Olympics. The relationship between Team Japan and the Calgary Inferno dates back to the last Olympics. Inferno head coach Scott Reid was Team Japan’s goalie coach in Sochi and the two sides kept in touch, paving the way for a 2015 exhibition game between the Inferno and Team Japan in Calgary, and now for this event.
Hosoyamada, who is of Japanese heritage, has been attending Japanese training camps since 2015, but just received roster eligibility this past August. This will be her first time suiting up for Team Japan, and she’s excited for the challenge ahead, both for herself and for her team: “As Team Japan, we've been playing against midget boy's teams throughout every training camp,” she said. “But, with the qualifiers so close, we wanted an exhibition play against a highly skilled women's team, and that's what we got.”
The Inferno play a fast, unrelenting game bolstered by strong depth and an incredible goaltending trio. They upset the dominant Les Canadiennes to snatch the 2016 Clarkson Cup victory, and currently top the CWHL standings with 34 points. No one knows better than Hosoyamada just how lethal her team can be. She’s effusive in her praise for Calgary and anticipates Team Japan will face a “tough game” against the “highly talented” Inferno.
Her sentiments on playing for Japan echo the sentiments shared by women’s hockey players across North America: it’s about something bigger than herself. “To me, playing for Japan means giving hope to the younger generations...I hope our team can influence young girls and boys around the country.”
In addition to her personal excitement, Hosoyamada is also looking forward to the Inferno showcasing their world-class hockey talent for a new audience: “If they want a fast, high-paced women's hockey, the Inferno is the team to watch..these are athletes who know how to compete every single day.”
Team Japan will face the Calgary Inferno at the Swan Prince Ice Arena in Tomokomai, Hokkaido, Japan on January 28 and 29.