SAPPORO, Japan – As a young child growing up in Canada, Akane Hosoyamada had a dream. She wanted to play in the Olympic Games.
Unsure of how she would accomplish it, she ended up taking a circuitous route that took her thousands of kilometres from home.
Born to Japanese parents in Banff, Alberta, she was first on skates at the age of three with an interest in figure skating. A couple of years later she took after her brother and began playing hockey. From there the path was clear.
“I followed my brother into hockey. At one point in middle school I wanted to quit hockey,” Hosoyamada recalled after her team's lopsided victory over Thailand on Thursday night at the Asian Winter Games. “I was playing boys’ hockey, so I was afraid of the contact. My mother said, ‘OK. Just play one more year and then if you don't like it you can quit.’ But in that one year I had like an amazing experience and we won everything. So it was great.”
From this point Hosoyamada began to get serious about pursuing the sport.
“I went to high school at Warner Hockey School in Alberta,” she said. “That team travelled all across North America in the junior women's hockey league. That's where I was scouted by different colleges and Syracuse talked to me.”
Now in her first year on Japan's national team, the 24-year-old Hosoyamada is one step from going to the Olympics. The dual Japanese-Canadian citizen recalled when the possibility first dawned on her.
“The first time it (about playing for Japan) popped into my head was when Japan went to the Sochi Olympics,” Hosoyamada stated. “When they qualified to go, I realized how developed hockey was in Japan.”
Hosoyamada, who graduated from Syracuse University in New York, says she had a vision after completing her studies there.
“I realized what I wanted to do after I graduated from university,” she commented. “I was thinking of going to the NWHL or Europe, but then I felt like I could go to those leagues after I played for a country. I really wanted to go to Japan, get eligibility there, and play for Japan.”
Hosoyamada got some help from the coaching staff at Syracuse to help open the door to the Far East for her.
“I asked my assistant coach at Syracuse to contact Carla MacLeod [former coach of the Japan women's team]," she recalled. “I also asked my uncle to help get my name out in Japan.”
The strategy paid off, with word eventually getting through to the right people.
“Back in 2015 I was asked to come to a camp in Japan and that is how it began,” Hosoyamada said. “I had to play and live in Japan for a year. I played in Kushiro (Hokkaido) for a year and became eligible (for the national team) in August.”
Hosoyamada is busy these days, as she is also playing for the Calgary Inferno in the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
“With Team Japan we do camps every month, but I need a club team, so I play for the Inferno,” she said.
Being with her Japanese teammates has helped her regain her handle on the language.
“Japanese is actually my first language,” she stated with a smile. “Growing up at home I spoke Japanese and then my English just developed through school. I am fluent now. It was a bit choppy when I got here, but now I'm also starting to read and write Japanese.”
Japan coach Takeshi Yamanaka feels that Hosoyamada has assimilated well into his team.
“She is really a key person on both offence and defence,” Yamanaka commented. “She is contributing for us on offence, which is really helping the team. She joined the team last year. She has a character that makes the team feel she is fitting in.”
Yamanaka said he had a positive impression of Hosoyamada before ever meeting her.
“Beforehand I knew that Akane was the captain of her college team, so I knew that she was a hard-working player,” he said. “You can't slack off if you are a captain. After she joined the team, I saw how she played and integrated with her teammates and was a hard worker. I wasn't worried about anything.”
Hosoyamada, who was a health and exercise science major at Syracuse, may be interested in being a trainer someday.
“I would still have to go back to school and get my master's degree,” she stated. “I will choose that road after I finish with hockey.”
When asked what NHL players she admired, Hosoyamada listed a few.
“I admire Sidney Crosby,” she said. “I also like Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks. Keith is a really good player.”
Hosoyamada does not have much free time, but when she finds some she prefers to stay where she feels comfortable.
“In my spare time I hang out at home with my family,” she said. “I love dogs, so I play with them a lot.”
When Japan beat Germany to qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics earlier this month in Tomakomai, Japan, it was a big moment for the gal who first got on skates long ago.
“There are no words to describe the moment when we won the qualifier against Germany,” Hosoyamada said. “It was my childhood dream to go to the Olympics. Maybe not with Team Japan, but it was my top-notch goal. I'm just really excited and I'm just looking forward to going to camps, developing with the team, and hopefully making the final roster for the Olympics.”