TOKYO, Japan – Asia League Ice Hockey has announced the dates for its 2011-12 pre-season regular season and post-season contests. Once again, seven teams will compete, including the Nikko Ice Bucks, Nippon Paper Cranes, Oji Eagles and Tohoku Free Blades from Japan, High1 and Anyang Halla from the Republic of Korea and China Dragon from the People’s Republic of China.
Six teams (excluding China Dragon) will compete in pre-season matches, to be held on September 1-4th at Hakucho Arena in Tomakomai, Hokkaido Island, the home of the Oji Eagles. In addition, five of the six teams (excluding Anyang Halla) will have unofficial exhibition games against the Japan Jr. National Team (U-22).
The pre-season schedule is as follows:
Group A: Nikko Ice Bucks, Cranes, High1 Group B: Anyang Halla, Oji Eagles, Tohoku Free Blades
Tuesday, August 30th Japan Jr. National Team (U-22) vs. Oji Eagles (15:30) Wednesday, August 31st Japan Jr. National Team (U-22) vs. High1 (18:00)
Thursday, September 1st Japan Jr. National Team (U-22) vs. Nikko Ice Bucks (10:00) Nippon Paper Cranes vs. High1 (15:00) Oji Eagles vs. Tohoku Free Blades (18:00)
Friday, September 2nd Japan Jr. National Team (U-22) vs. Nippon Paper Cranes (10:00) Anyang Halla vs. Tohoku Free Blades (15:00) High1 vs. Nikko Ice Bucks (18:00)
Saturday, September 3rd Japan Jr. National Team (U-22) vs. Tohoku Free Blades (09:30) Nippon Paper Cranes vs. Nikko Ice Bucks (13:00) Oji Eagles vs. Anyang Halla (16:00)
Sunday, September 4th A3 vs. B3 (10:30) A2 vs. B2 (13:30) A1 vs. B1 (16:30)
The 2011-12 regular season will run from Saturday, September 17th to Sunday, February 26, 2012. The seven participating teams will play a combined 126 games, after which, four teams atop the final regular season standings will advance to the playoffs and will vie for the title of Asia League Champion. Both the semi-final (Set for March 3-11th) and final (set for March 17-25th) will feature a best-of-five series format.
The opening weekend match-ups will be as follows:
Saturday, September 17th High1 @ Anyang Halla Nippon Paper Cranes @ Tohoku Free Blades Nikko Ice Bucks @ Oji Eagles Sunday, September 18th Anyang Halla @ High1 Nippon Paper Cranes @ Tohoku Free Blades Nikko Ice Bucks @ Oji Eagles
For the second year in a row, the league has scheduled a total of 20 regular season contests at alternate venues in order to help promote professional hockey throughout Japan.
12 games will be held at the Higashi-Fushimi Arena in Tokyo. The Asia League lost Japan’s second oldest club, the Seibu Prince Rabbits after the 2008-09 season, when the Tokyo-based club folded. Since then, national media attention for the league has waned and fans in Tokyo have been without a professional hockey team.
Eight international matches between Japanese and Korean teams will be held in Tokyo on December 17-18th and January 28-29th with the schedule as follows:
Saturday, December 17th
Nikko Ice Bucks vs. Anyang Halla
High1 vs. Tohoku Free Blades
Sunday, December 18th
Nikko Ice Bucks vs. High1
High1 vs. Anyang Halla
Saturday, January 28th
Oji Eagles vs. High1
Nippon Paper Cranes vs. Anyang Halla
Sunday, January 29th
Oji Eagles vs. Anyang Halla
Nippon Paper Cranes vs. High1
In addition, 12 national matches between Japanese teams will be held at the Higashi-Fushimi Arena in Tokyo as well the Shin-Yokohama Skate Center in Yokohama and the Tsukisamu Green Dome in Sapporo, Hokkaido Island.
Saturday, November 5th (Yokohama)
Tohoku Free Blades vs. Nippon Paper Cranes
Nikko Ice Bucks vs. Oji Eagles
Sunday, November 6th (Yokohama)
Tohoku Free Blades vs. Oji Eagles
Nikko Ice Bucks vs. Nippon Paper Cranes
Saturday, December 24th (Sapporo)
Nippon Paper Cranes vs. Tohoku Free Blades
Oji Eagles vs. Nikko Ice Bucks
Sunday, December 25th (Sapporo)
Nippon Paper Cranes vs. Nikko Ice Bucks
Oji Eagles vs. Tohoku Free Blades
Saturday, February 25th (Tokyo)
Nikko Ice Bucks vs. Tohoku Free Blades
Nippon Paper Cranes vs. Oji Eagles
Sunday, February 26th (Tokyo) Nikko Ice Bucks vs. Tohoku Free Blades Nippon Paper Cranes vs. Oji Eagles
To date, start times for all contests have not been determined.
There will be no action during the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Breaks (November 7-13th, February 6-12th) and the Korean domestic championship (November 7-13th). The Japan domestic championship (February 6-12th) will be held during the IIHF break.
During the regular season, the league ranks the teams by points. A regulation win is worth three points. If the teams are tied at the end of regulation, both teams receive one point. The team which is victorious either in the overtime period or overtime shoot-out receives an additional point. A regulation time loss is worth zero points.
At the end of last season, the Oji Eagles were ranked first (76 points), followed by the Nippon Paper Cranes (74 points), Tohoku Free Blades (68 points), Anyang Halla (67 points), Nikko Ice Bucks (40 points) and China Dragon (2 points).
In the playoffs, Anyang Halla faced the Oji Eagles while the Nippon Paper Cranes faced the Tohoku Free Blades.
Halla managed to take two of three in Japan and defeat the Eagles on home ice to advance. The Free Blades won a deciding fifth game against the Paper Cranes and advanced to the final for the first time after just their second season in the league.
On March 11th, the Free Blades were getting ready to begin practice at the Bandai Atami Ice Arena in Koriyama when their session was cut short by the largest earthquake to hit Japan in recorded history. Halla players had already landed in Japan and stopped for lunch on their way to Koriyama, when the 9.0 magnitude temblor struck. Fortunately, neither team’s players were injured.
The league placed the series on indefinite hold and ultimately decided, in light of the tragedy, that the final could not go on. On March 22nd, the League declared that both Halla and the Free Blades would be declared co-champions. It was the second consecutive championship for Halla and the first for the Free Blades.
The two teams will meet for the first time since their final series was cancelled during the pre-season on Friday, September 2nd.
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Photo credit: Anyang Halla