By Ken Pagan
Don Cherry has always been Canada-first with his love for Canadian hockey players, but even Don Cherry would pull for Yon Shimpo.
Born in Japan, Shimpo, 19, is an honorary Canadian “rink rat” with a deep passion for hockey.
He loved the sport so much growing up that, as a 10-year-old in the Japanese city of Yokohama, with only two ice rinks in a city of 3.7 million, he’d have to practise after midnight, stay on the ice until 2 a.m. and still make it to school in the morning.
At age 15, he moved to Canada on his own so he could immerse himself in Canada’s game while finishing high school.
He’s now playing with the Hamilton Kilty B’s, working part-time with young kids in Burlington as a skating/ skills instructor, and hoping to stay in Canada to attend university. And of course, play hockey.
The swift-skating winger scored a highlight-reel goal in Monday’s Remembrance Day 6-2 win over the Fort Erie Meteors, helping the Kilty B’s snap a three-game losing skid, as well as a personal 11-game point drought.
After the game, he was all smiles, not so much for his goal, but for helping the team get back in the win column. (Ellis Rickwood, Christian Pelley, Jacob Macdonald, Cam Gauvreau and Andrew Salt also scored).
“This month, we have a huge month playing all the top teams in our division, so we definitely have to come out strong and win all the games we can,” Shimpo said Monday. “Hopefully we can start today, so for the rest of the month, we can keep rolling and keep winning.”
The five-foot-11, 175-pound forward was first exposed to hockey when his family moved to North Carolina when he was three years old, although it was mostly in-line roller hockey in the land of the Carolina Hurricanes.
At age 9, Shimpo returned to Japan and continued pursuing his passion for hockey, even though the sport isn’t popular back home. The organized minor hockey system as we know it in Canada doesn’t exist in Japan, so Shimpo would often practise among larger age groups with both younger and older players, often after midnight.
“Figure skating is bigger in Japan, so they get the prime ice times and hockey gets pushed back later,” he said. “But I really liked it, so my Mom would drive me everywhere. I just really wanted to play hockey.
“I was a 10-year-old playing hockey at midnight and getting back home at 2 or 3 in the morning and I’d have to go to school the next day.”
Shimpo is now in his fourth season since moving to Canada, having spent the past two seasons in Burlington with the Blyth Academy Cougars prep program. He formed a bond in those two seasons with Kilty B’s captain Jacob Macdonald — Shimpo led the team in assists last season, Macdonald led in points.
The bond remains strong with the Kilty B’s and perhaps the feel-good vibe from Monday’s Remembrance Day win carried into Friday.
After spotting the Niagara Falls Canucks a 2-0 lead, Shimpo set up Macdonald for the first Kilty B’s goal and Macdonald added two more on the night to complete the hat trick as Hamilton (14-7-2) scored five unanswered goals in a 5-2 win to pull within a point of second-place Niagara Falls (14-6-3).
Jacob McEachern and Terry Bridgland also scored, while goaltender Justin Easter stopped 23 of 25 shots for the win in net.
Macdonald now has a team-leading 14 goals and 28 points, while Shimpo has eight points in 21 games, and a fresh two-game point streak.
Shimpo hopes there is lots of Canadian hockey in his future.
“I’m hoping to continue with school here at university and I want to still play hockey, hopefully, because that’s what I like doing,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy, how I’ve ended up here and everything.”