FALMOUTH, N.S. - Sixteen-year-old Yumi Miyano has been passionate about hockey since she was a little girl. The only problem? It’s not very big in Japan, at least, not as big as it is here.
So, why not move to the birthplace of hockey?
“My dad was joking, ‘oh you should go to Canada and play hockey,’” Miyano said.
“He was joking, but then I realized that I really wanted to go to Canada and study English, so I came here,” she said.
“My friends were like ‘oh Yumi,’” she added with a laugh.
Playing on Japanese teams for nine years, Miyano looked into the options and signed up for the student exchange program.
She is now in her second year on the Avon View Avalanche hockey team, playing as a forward.
She’s planning to continue at Avon View next year and graduate from high school in Nova Scotia.
Miyano has made close friendships and bonds with her schoolmates and her boarding family; it’s been a life-changing experience for her.
“Sometimes it is a challenge (having English as a second language),” she said. “But, I like it.”
She grew up in Fukuoka, Japan, near southern edge of the Pacific nation, which features warm, balmy days and nearly no snow.
“It was a change here,” she said. “The food is different, people are different. Japan is more busy. There, it would all be about going on the train or the subway, but here it is… quiet.”
The bustling streets of Fukuoka and the quiet, pastoral setting of Falmouth are worlds apart, but she’s enjoying the transition.
“I feel like I am Canadian,” she said with a smile.
She first became interested in the sport when she was six-years-old and her family was living in Seattle at the time. They would watch hockey games together and when they moved back to Japan, the interest stuck.
“We found out more about hockey in Japan,” she said. “In Japan, hockey is not as famous as it is here. Like, when I was 10-years-old, my team was just five players plus (a) goalie, so we didn’t have (subs). And there were just three or four teams (in my city).”
Having a small, close-knit group of players did have its advantages — “my teammates were like family,” she said.
But with that also came a lot of practise and not as many games against a wide range of players, which is what she gets to experience now.
“Here, we have many games, every weekend, (and) there’s a league,” she said.
The first year on the team was challenging with the language barrier, but now that she knows her fellow players well, it’s become less of an issue.
“Hockey is my communication, how I make friends, and it makes it more easy to see more places,” she said. “In Japan, we lost most games, but here we are doing much better.”
Rob Davies, is the head coach of the Avon View girls hockey team.
He’s worked with Miyano now for two years, twice as her coach and now also as her board parent.
“She puts in a solid effort every game and brings a positive attitude,” Davies said. “She’s hard-working and has a nose for the net. She’s not the biggest kids out there, but won’t get knocked down.”
He said that she’s smart and knows how to find open ice, but isn’t afraid to get up close and personal if need be.
“For the good of her team, she’ll take a lump or two,” he said. “She likes the competitive games, the close ones.”
Off the ice, he said she also makes a mean sushi roll and kicks butt at Nintendo.
“Having her live with us has been great for our whole family, they love having her,” he said.
“She interacts so well with my kids and they learn so much from each other. She’s one of the family,” he continued.
“It’s basically like I have a daughter on the team,” he said. “Sometimes that doesn’t always work out in her favour. But we don’t let that come home, once the game is over, it’s over.”
Davies said he’s working with Miyano on improving her positional play and getting stronger on the puck.
“She came to us with a good hockey IQ already,” he said. “She knows where to be, and with players like that, the puck finds them.”
He said that he’s also seen a huge improvement in Miyano’s English skills, which has improved communication on the ice and in the classroom.
The Avalanche are already having an incredible season; they are undefeated in their league. Davies said he’s thrilled with their success so far, especially after not knowing what would happen after losing many key players from the previous graduating class.
“We’ve had some Grade 9s comes in and have really shined,” he said. “And everyone else still on the team is a year older and a year wiser and it’s neat to see how they’ve continued to improve.”
Davies said he’s hoping the Avalanche will be back to compete at the provincials, and if they keep their current momentum, that’s likely to happen.
“For now, we’ll focus on doing our best at regionals,” he added.