The following is an expanded version of a story I wrote for the English section of the Rafu Shimpo (Los Angeles Japanese Daily News), which was originally published on February 21, 2007. It is reprinted here with permission.
LOS ANGELES — No one in their right mind, not even Japanese goaltender Yutaka Fukufuji himself, thought he would be wearing a National Hockey League uniform this season, not after just two full seasons in North American minor leagues after coming over from Japan in the summer of 2004.
But that is exactly what the 6-1, 180-pound native of Kushiro, Japan did when he became the first player born in Japan to play in an NHL game on January 13, 2007, when he came on in relief of Los Angeles Kings goalie Barry Brust in a 6-5 loss at St. Louis.
“I was so nervous,” said Fukufuji, 24. “But when the coach came to me during the second intermission, he said, ‘Have fun. Don’t be nervous.’ That helped.”
“This was my first time playing in the NHL,” added Fukufuji, who was selected by the Kings in the eighth round (238th overall) of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. “I was so nervous but I was pretty excited, too. It was fun. And I did my job.” Read more of this post