Hockey is finally giving the National Hockey League’s first star player of Asian descent his due, and Ken Noma couldn’t be happier.
The Hockey Hall of Fame’s decision to enshrine former Mighty Ducks of Anaheim forward Paul Kariya, a Vancouver native whose father was born in a World War II Japanese internment camp, is historic, said Noma, the executive director of National Association of Japanese Canadians.
“We are equally proud that Paul is the first inductee of Asian heritage and the first Japanese Canadian,” Noma said in a statement released by the association. “Paul’s hockey style was reminiscent of the Asahi Baseball team of the 1930s who played a courteous but a tactical style of game dubbed ‘brain baseball.’ Sport writers have described Paul as a skilled, fast skating player who brought a cerebral dimension to the game. He had an innate hockey sense that seemed to attract pucks.”
Paul Tetsuhiko Kariya, 42, got the call from the Hall on Monday. He’ll be formally enshrined November 13 along with Ducks linemate and close friend Teemu Selanne; former NHL forwards forwards Dave Andreychuk and Mark Recchi; women’s hockey star Danielle Goyette; former University of Alberta Head Coach Clare Drake and Boston Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs.
Kariya, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound wing played with Anaheim, the Colorado Avalanche, the St. Blues Louis and the Nashville Predators in a 15-season NHL career that was cut tragically short by concussions.
He scored 402 goals and 587 assists in 989 regular season games and 16 goals, 23 assists in 46 playoff contests. His numbers were good enough to earn seven All Star Game appearances.
He collected his share of hardware: Kariya won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1996 and 1997 for gentlemanly play and skated for Canada’s 1994 Silver Medal-winning Winter Olympics hockey squad and on the 2002 Canadian team that captured the country’s first Olympic Gold Medal in 50 years.
Kariya was a star even before the Ducks chose him with the fourth overall pick in the 1993 NHL Draft.
He led the University of Maine Black Bears to the 1993 NCAA Division I championship and won the Hobey Baker Award that year as U.S. college hockey’s best player. He tallied 25 goals and 75 assists – 100 points – in 39 games for Maine in the 1992-93 season.
But for all his accomplishments, Kariya, who played his final NHL season in 2009-10, seemed to be a forgotten man by the hockey establishment.
He was repeatedly passed over by the Hall of Fame and somehow wasn’t ranked among the 100 Greatest NHL Players, a list commemorating the league’s centennial anniversary.
So when Kariya received the Hall call, his fans rejoiced, especially those fans in North America’s Asian community.
“There’s a great love of hockey among the Japanese Canadian community, so seeing Paul recognized in this way is a source of pride,” James Heron, executive director of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto, told me.
It wasn’t just Japanese-Canadians who were thrilled. George Chiang, whose parents moved to Canada from Taiwan, said Kariya’s inclusion in the Hall is “a great thing because he deserves it based on his achievements.”
“He had a great career,” Chiang, a 47-year-old father of an up-and-coming hockey player, told me. “It is nice that Asians now have a role model that shows them that they can be recognized for their achievements just like other players.”
Noma hopes Kariya’s Hall entry starts a trend.
“We are hopeful that the next inductee to the Hall will be Vicky Sunohara who has been eligible since 2010,” he said. “Vicky is a trailblazer in Canadian women’s hockey who won 9 gold medals and 2 silvers and has devoted her life to the sport.”
Sunohara, 47, won medals at three Winter Olympics – gold in 2006 in Torino, Italy, 2002 in Salt Lake City, and silver in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. She played on gold medal-winning Canadian teams at International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships in 1990, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2007.
As head coach of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey team, Sunohara has compiled a 137-59-21 record since 2011.