How a Japanese player made the unlikely journey to Canadian college hockey

The most successful men’s hockey program in Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference history has added an unlikely new player this season.

Rintaro Mashio grew up in Tokyo, Japan, where he also played hockey. Mashio developed into an accomplished player, but he quit the sport as a teenager after losing his passion.

“Mostly my dad taught me about hockey,” he said. “The reason why I quit hockey is my dad was a little bit too strict.”

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The 21-year-old moved from Tokyo to Edmonton earlier this year to study English at NAIT. He also decided to lace up his skates again and begin playing shinny during the spring and summer.

A NAIT alumnus was at those games too and was impressed with Mashio’s ability.

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The former Ook contacted NAIT head coach Scott Fellnermayr, encouraging the bench boss to watch Mashio at the shinny games.

“(He) said there’s a guy I should come look at,” Fellnermayr recalled. “Obviously I was a little skeptical. (I) pushed it off a few times.”

Eventually, Fellnermayr relented and came to watch Mashio. Impressed, the Ooks head coach invited the young man from Japan to a tryout, where Mashio earned a spot on the defending ACAC championship team’s roster.

“He’s battling, getting under sticks and doing things the right way, so I just figure he’s probably going to develop,” Fellnermayr said.

“I’ve never played on a such a good team, so I really like (it),” Mashio said. “I can practise with good players and (we can) keep pushing each other.”

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Pushing to get better is something the first-year Ook does very well. He’s impressed his coaches and teammates with his work ethic.

“He takes advantage of extra ice. He’s always working on things on his own time,” Fellnermayr said.

“When I give free time at the end, he’s working on something very diligently.”

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“I don’t think I’m going hard. I just want to get better and also catch up to them,” Mashio said.

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Mashio has been working hard on and off the ice. Learning a new language and a new culture is not easy, but the new NAIT student-athlete is beginning to fit in, with the help of his teammates.

“We crack jokes with him and we tease him a little bit — just to get him involved and whatnot — and he’s been good about it, and he’s always laughing,” Ooks forward Nick Leyer said.

“He’s very visual. He sees a drill demonstration (and then) he tends to do it correctly,” Fellnerymayr said. “If you just talk to him, sometimes things are missed, but his effort is always there and he always comes to coaches to get clarity on things.”

The type of impact Mashio will make for the Ooks is uncertain, but what is certain is he will appreciate and work for every opportunity he receives.

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