With Canada and the United States having recently named its rosters of women’s ice sledge hockey players for the 2015-16 season, an admirable initiative is taking place to add another national team to the competitive landscape. Known as The WISH Project, the objective is to establish a national team for Japan.
As women’s ice sledge hockey shall be a demonstration sport at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, a team of Asian representation would certainly add to the momentum. Perhaps an Asian team may consist of players from both Japan and Korea, but the need for a fourth team to compete with Canada, the United States and Team Europe is essential.
Spearheaded by Keiko Kimura Middleton and Eri Yamamoto MacDonald, the WISH Project aims to raise awareness about the sport, while looking to obtain equipment. Currently residing in Philadelphia, Kimura Middleton’s first exposure to sport was playing basketball recreationally. She first gained attention in the sport after seeing American national women’s team player Kelsey DiClaudio compete in a tournament alongside men on her club team, the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins.
“The very first game I had seen live was in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, it was not on television. In that game, Kelsey DiClaudio was playing.
It was the very first time that I had seen a female player on the ice playing with men. It made an impression. Eri already knew Kelsey and we started talking to each other about a plan to start a new team in Japan. We kind of bonded immediately.”
Having spent the last couple of years in Edmonton, Yamamoto MacDonald spent two seasons with the Canadian national women’s ice sledge hockey team. While she has played against DiClaudio in international competition several times, it would also serve as an introduction to Kimura Middleton, who had only known each other through mutual friends on social media,
“I met Keiko for the first time in May 2015 at the ice sledge hockey event in Buffalo. We had known each other before on social media as we had common friends.”
Currently, her goals and efforts are aligned with Kimura Middleton in bringing a team to Japan. Both are confident in the belief that an additional team would increase the quality of play throughout, while adding an extra element to competitive play,
“We are trying to make a female team in Japan happen. Although I live in Philadelphia, I am trying to do as much as I can. Through Project WISH, (WISH stands for Women’s Ice Sledge Hockey), we are looking for donations of used equipment.
Our website lists the equipment that we need. Our wish is to make Team Japan happen. We totally see this as a wish for everybody,” remarked Kimura Middleton.
Considering that it is only the two of them involved with this project, it is testament to their hard work and dedication. It evokes memories of IIHF Hall of Fame member Fran Rider, who helped establish the first women’s hockey tournament (stand-up) in 1987, while helping build bridges with the international community.
“Currently, it is just Eri and I working on this project, and we are both quite active. We are very passionate about this. We take it very seriously and are committed.
We need to find players. Equipment is inaccessible in Japan. Everything has to be imported and shipping costs can be so high. We need to try and obtain equipment that people are not using.”
While Japan has a national program for men, Yamamoto MacDonald recounts how a workshop recently generated attention interest among women. She is hopeful that this group of interested women may form the foundation for a future national program,
“Recruiting talent is the hardest past. It is essential and crucial to our goal. In Japan, there was a clinic and workshop and inquiries were made by women. As a player, I am going to look to find out who they were, and inquire if they would still like to play.”
Kimura Middleton explains that an obstacle for the national men’s ice sledge hockey program is playing time. Detailing some of the factors that constitute such athletic endeavors, her goals include bringing a more positive impact and outlook towards the sport, which may result in positive attributes for both genders,
“Japan has a national men’s ice sledge hockey team. There are three active club teams in the sport but their ice time is allocated at 3 am in the morning. It is that kind of environment as even male players have to wake up early in order to have practice. It has shown how little attention that the sport has gotten, but we are hoping to change that.”
Taking into account her world-class abilities, Yamamoto MacDonald still has a desire to play. Should their effort yield the positive results that they are hoping for, the chance to play with Team Japan is one that she certainly would like to experience.
In the women’s game of standup hockey, it has not been uncommon for team and/or league founders to play or take on coaching roles. Samantha Holmes-Domagala, one of Canada’s great builders and activists for women’s hockey in Canada served as the founder of the Strathmore Rockies but also played on the team.
“Although Eri has to take on a boss role, she would still like to remain a player,” said Kimura-Middleton.
Recently, Yamamoto MacDonald and Kimura Middleton brought their ambitious effort to Canada’s capital region. With the Canadian national women’s ice sledge hockey team holding their training camp in the suburbs of Ottawa, it was an opportunity for the two to introduce their cause.
“Eri told me nice things about Team Canada, I decided to make the trek to their national team camp in Ottawa, which was held over three days. Janice Coulter, their team president was very welcoming.”
Although Yamamoto MacDonald shall not be participating with the Canadian national team this season, she was still active at the training camp. Participating in the intrasquad games, it was a kind gesture that helped the coaching staff evaluate talent while experiencing the joy of playing alongside the women she has called her friends for several seasons.
Information on equipment donation can be obtained at: http://sledgejapanwomen-equipment.strikingly.com/
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”