Japan is quickly becoming a major hockey country. The country’s U20 team is fighting its way up and is promoted to two of the last three World Juniors. And the effects of Japanese players can be felt around the world. Sho Sarusawa was just the first Japanese player Win the championship in Spain’s top division and Yuki Miura and Kohei Sato became only the third and fourth Japanese players to play in 100 NCAA games.
Japanese hockey exudes. The country continues to grow in the ice hockey world, with no signs of slowing down, thanks to some incredible international talent. At the center of this rapid growth are the Youngstown Phantoms and their Japanese star strikers Yusaku Ando and Kenta Isogai.
thanks to LeadOff sports marketing and the Youngstown Phantoms for all of their help with this article. LeadOff Sports Marketing acts as the family advisor for many Japanese players who play in North America.
How Youngstown Phantoms Stars shape Japanese hockey
Japan’s rapid boom in the ice hockey world is relatively new. While great talents like Herb and Mel Wakabayashi delighted fans as early as 1962, the country’s push towards the NHL has never been as strong as it is now. Yusaku Ando had one enormous rookie season in the USHL last year and has shown continued versatility this year. Above all, he has shown that he must be drafted in the 2021 NHL draft.
And his draft selection must be historical. Only two (real) Japanese players were ever drafted. And neither of them were selected in the top 7 rounds, both were taken when the NHL draft was over seven rounds. That means that wherever he goes, Ando will be the best-cast Japanese player ever and only the third to even hear his name.
It’s incredible and there is no better player who deserves the title. Ando is humble, driven, and proud to take his country to new heights.
The 2022 Challenger
But Ando may not hold the title “Highest Drafted Japanese-born Player” very long. Kenta Isogai is making a serious case herself. Isogai scored 12 points in 42 games that year. While that’s not a mind-boggling number, it was good enough for fifth place among all 2022 NHL draft-eligible skaters in the USHL outside of the USNTDP. He was fourth in points per game.
He set a very high bar right in front of the goal. And Isogai’s strong score was surpassed by a serious reliability. Despite being a newbie, Isogai has worn top-line roles and special team protocols on occasion. He shows off his skills in every possible way. Yusaku Ando himself emphasized this claim, saying …
“[Isogai] is quick and very skillful. He gets better every day as he gets used to this level. “
Ando also said that he doesn’t really need to take rookie Isogai under his wing.
“It’s easy to play with. He sees the ice very well and always looks around with and without a puck. That’s why it’s easy for me to play with him and give him passes. “
But there’s a lot of praise to go around. In a short interview, Andrew Goldman, President of Youngstown Phantoms, and Brad Patterson, General Manager, reiterated the amazing ability Ando and Isogai display.
“Both [Ando and Isogai] Much deserves a mention as a NHL Draft prospect … both are Elite! People have definitely noticed and are paying close attention [to them]… We thought Yusaku and Kenta definitely had the makeup and skills to be elite players in any league. We feel very lucky to have them in our organization. “
Youngstown’s engagement in Japan
Japanese born players have never attended the USHL. In fact, only nine Japanese players have played in the league since 1990. But the Phantoms received a third of them, starting with Yushiroh Hirano. Hirano joined the Phantoms in 2015 and played with the team for a year. While Hirano had done well in Sweden and represented his country internationally, his name wasn’t prominent enough to be inducted into a junior league. But the phantoms were lucky to find him. Patterson and Goldman talked about how they came across the Japanese star, saying …
“We brought Yushiroh in after seeing a video of him from the Chicago Blackhawks development camp. As soon as he stepped on the ice here in Youngstown, we knew he was going to be an impressive player. “
You were right. Hirano scored 24 goals and 46 points in 54 games that year. He finished second on the team for goals and third for points. The impact Hirano’s strong year would have had would lay the foundation for Japanese players in the USHL. Phantoms management said it “definitely opened our eyes to non-traditional entrants”.
Hirano broke ground in the USHL and the Phantoms made sure he remains involved. Goldman said …
“After I designed both of them [Yusaku Ando and Kenta Isogai]Brad Patterson let Hirano reach out to her to answer questions. Having that connection and someone who made the leap before definitely helped. “
Hirano opened the doors to Japanese hockey to the Phantoms. The Phantoms have been contacted since Hirano took the ice cream for them through a number of different outlets. Goldman talked about one of these and said …
“Hockey always seems to prove how small the world is. After we acquired Yushiroh Hirano, Brad was contacted by a friend I met as a teenager in Japan and who had spent a few weeks there while his father was running a hockey camp.
This friend of his many, many years ago, actually knew Yushiroh and was involved in one of his teams in Japan before coming to Youngstown. Brad is now often contacted by him and his family as they are huge hockey fans. “
He went on to talk about how the team in Japan could be more directly involved with ice hockey in Japan.
“After Brad had these players in Youngstown, he was contacted about running camps in Japan to assess future prospects. This was something he was very interested in and planned to do before Covid.
Hopefully he can do this in the future. We should be very keen to get more players based on our success with Yushiroh, Yusaku and Kenta. “
Hirano’s tremendous success started steadily, but Yusaku and Kenta opened the floodgates. The duo not only compete for an NHL draft selection, but also inspire generations of Japanese talent. Talent the Youngstown Phantoms will keep an eye on with the sounds. And they don’t think they’ll be the only ones to say …
“We believe that overall in hockey more and more players will play at an extremely high level in non-traditional hockey markets.”
High-end futures themselves
Hirano, Ando, and Isogai are all incredibly proud – humble but proud – to advance their country in the hockey world. The effects that they have made and the effects that they are going to make are truly incredible. But their own careers are just as important. Fortunately, each of them has an exciting future ahead of them. Futures that continue to set new precedents for Japanese gamblers.
Hirano was not drafted. But his career remained in full swing after his year in the USHL. Immediately thereafter, he played two seasons in Japan but was quickly brought back to Sweden, where he played in the country’s second-rate league. He scored 13 points in 18 games. Combined with a point-per-game performance in the Asia League, Hirano’s game was enough to win an ECHL contract.
He was only the 12th Japanese player to appear in the ECHL. And the same year he made his ECHL debut, he also appeared in an AHL game, recording an assist and a penalty kick. He remains only the third Japanese player to play in the AHL.
Hirano’s game was absolutely great with 92 points in 112 ECHL games. At just 25 years old, with his work ethic and ability to thrive, there is no doubt about Hirano’s bright future.
Ando had a great rookie season in the USHL in 2019-20. He scored 25 points in 40 games, finishing seventh among the DY-1 skaters. In terms of points-per-game, he beat Jeremy Wilmer, Ryan St. Louis and many other players who are now considered Top 100 worthy.
Ando has now spent its second season taking a break from goal. Instead, he was an “all-rounder” for the Youngstown Phantoms. He has served in various roles and has proven himself as a marksman, defensive specialist and even as a web presence. He has shown a great ability to grow and meet the needs of his teams. And throughout all of this, his rating has still remained strong. He has 23 points in 46 games. This includes five points in his last five games.
After months of different roles, he is now returning to his role as a fast, productive winger. And it pays off. Ando has found his spark and is making one final push ahead of the NHL draft. With so much booming potential already on display, there’s a good chance lots of NHL teams will be watching him in July.
But perhaps the trio’s biggest star is Isogai. Goldman and Patterson said of Isogai …
“Kenta has been great for us this season. Not only did he show his tremendous skills at a young age, he was also a relentless worker and strives to get better every day. He’s definitely a fan favorite and a very popular player in our locker room. “
Isogai himself was very happy with his rookie season. He said…
“Everything is different … in America it’s much more difficult … [but] I love being in North American hockey. “
He went on to say that his pursuit of the USHL was made to pursue the best possible hockey he could. He’s got all eyes on making it to the NHL, and after a strong season of rookies, he’s been able to do just that. Isogai is a fast winger who reads brilliant play. He fits in well with any teammate and makes him a coach’s dream. He will try to follow in Ando’s footsteps and perform just as well next year, fighting for a selection for NHL Draft Day 2022.
Isogai ended my interview with him by saying …
“It feels great to be separated from a great hockey program. I am grateful to the Phantoms Staff for giving me the opportunity to be here and play. “
Hockey is on the rise in Japan. And one of the favorite teams in the country remains the Youngstown Phantoms. President Andrew Goldman and General Manager Brad Patterson have continued to delve into nontraditional hockey markets and have been rewarded with incredible talent in return. The stars of the Phantoms are poised to make history in the years to come and push their country even further into the realm of hockey dominance.