Northern Star: Chikara Hanzawa
For this week's segment, meet a Minnesota Wilderness player who traveled halfway across the world to continue his hockey career.
CLOQUET, Minn. – The Minnesota Wilderness are currently made up of eight local players. But for Japenese forward Chikara Hanzawa, he’s in America for the first time ever.
“It’s good, I like it so far,” Hanzawa said of Minnesota.
Hanzawa first came to the U.S. to play with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. After four games, he was traded to the Wilderness.
“The USHL program has conversations with me, then we have conversations with the adviser who represents the player and once that’s all done, he reports. These advisers that represent these players would contact teams to get them opportunities. Then he comes in and we set him up,” Wilderness head coach Jon Vaillancourt said.
Like many of his teammates, hockey has always been a part of Hanzawa’s life, as he started playing when he was just three years old.
“My dad played hockey also, I struck inspiration from him,” Hanzawa said.
Hanzawa’s dad played in the Asian Pro League, and now, he is trying to follow in his dad’s footsteps. After representing Japan in the World Juniors last year, Hanzawa got his next opportunity.
“I played [in] Sweden last year and the USHL team coach found me at the tryout camp and [I] made it,” Hanzawa said.
Now, Hanzawa is adjusting to life in America, both off and on the ice, especially with the style of hockey and ice size in the NAHL.
“Everything is different. Big difference is the physicality and shoot mentality,” Hanzawa said of NAHL hockey.
“The big thing for us for him is to continue to grow as a player and for him to just develop and better perform. Especially here lately, he’s had a big couple games where he’s getting a few points, starting to find his stride, which is what we want to see,” Vaillancourt added.
Hanzawa scored his first goal with the Wilderness on Nov. 15, and has a total of three goals and one assist so far this season. And while he may not be the biggest player on the ice, he’s found a way to play to his strengths.
“His size, because of his ability and deception on his feet, hasn’t really been a factor. He’s a strong enough skater and he’s fast enough where it doesn’t get him in those dangerous areas, and when he does get in those dangerous areas, he’s slippery enough to get himself out. Everything’s built on skill but obviously skating’s the biggest part of this game and he’s got great feet on him so it really opens a lot of ice up for him. I imagine only as he matures as a human being and physically and gets stronger, he’s going to get faster,” Vaillancourt said of his speed.
Now, while Hanzawa hopes for a chance to play at the next level, he’s just taking in the American experience, and getting better every day.
“For him, the adjustment of going over and playing in Europe, and now playing in America, maybe a little adjustment to the style of hockey but you have to go to where the opportunities are. So if he wants to play DI hockey, he knew he had to play in the states to get that opportunity,” Vaillancourt said.
“I [want to] get stronger, more physical player. That’s the most important thing for me.”It’s a lot of fun here. it’s so fantastic for me,” Hanzawa added.