Thursday, September 14, 2017

Kohei Sato's Long Journey From Tokyo to UNH

Kohei Sato
UNH Freshman Forward
"An intriguing prospect because of the speed he could bring to a line up." Neutral Zone
Kohei Sato (pronounced KO-hey SAH-Toe), a 6'1", 185 lbs., left-shot forward from Nishitokyo, Japan, verbally committed to UNH in April. Last season, at the age of 20, Sato suddenly attracted the attention of NCAA recruiters. In October, he was called up by the Northeast Generals in the North American Hockey League, the only Tier II junior hockey league in the United States. The Generals play at the New England Sports Village in Hanover, Massachusetts. In his first 37 games, Sato tallied 11 goals and 18 assists and earned an invite to the 2017 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in late February.

Over 220 NHL and NCAA scouts attended the NAHL Top Prospects games in Plymouth, Michigan. Among them were scouts from Neutral Zone** who identified Sato as a top uncommitted prospect and provided this combined assessment:

"The Japan native sticks out like a sore thumb on the ice with his explosive speed. He is both quick and fast. Looks like he is shot out of a cannon when he takes off. Showed skill and the ability to work. Dangerous on the rush with his speed and ability to attack defenders. An intriguing prospect because of the speed he could bring to a line up.

Sato was the fastest player here. His speed is elite. He was in constant motion which made him very tough to cover. His passing and puck skills have improved since we saw him last and he was able to play fast with the puck most of the time. His compete level was high. He only knows one speed (fast) and that does hurt him at times as he skates himself into trouble. Overall, he was impressive and despite only scoring one goal earned his grade (i.e., 'A')."
Rating - 3 1/2 out of 5 Stars. ** Reprinted by permission of Brendan Collins, Director of Scouting at Neutral Zone.

Here are some video highlights of Kohei Sato's performance at the Top Prospects Tournament:

Sato finished the 2016-17 NAHL season with 14 goals and 22 assists in 48 games. He was a prime player on the Generals' power play scoring 5 goals and 5 assists on the man advantage. On April 4th, the day of his final game, he committed to the University of New Hampshire. Kohei Sato was born in Nishitokyo Japan, a suburb of Tokyo. At age 12 he embarked on a remarkable journey to pursue his dream of playing high-level hockey. Over the next 8 years, he would live and play hockey in Quebec, Ontario, Iowa, Massachusetts, and finally Durham, NH. The story is best told in Kohei's own words so here is my interview with him:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Congratulations on your commitment to play for the University of New Hampshire. What are the main reasons you chose UNH?

Kohei Sato: Thank you. The main reason why I chose UNH was I absolutely fell in love with the campus and facilities that UNH offers.

Mike Lowry: What other college programs did you consider during the recruiting process? Which schools did you visit and which ones made an offer to you?

Kohei Sato: University of Alaska Anchorage, Northeastern University, University of Alabama Huntsville, and University of New Hampshire. UAA and UNH made offers, others were a recruit walk on.

Lowry: At this stage in your hockey development, what are the strengths of your game? What areas are you trying to improve?

Sato: My strengths are my speed and shots. I am trying to improve on my defensive part of the game.

Lowry: During this past season in the NAHL, you played both center and wing. Do you have a preference? Two key skills for a centerman are winning faceoffs and helping your defensemen provide coverage in your own end. How effective are you in these two areas?

Sato: I do not have a preference. I was pretty effective in those two areas using my quickness on face-offs and using my speed to cover the D and helping them get the puck out of the zone.

Lowry: I've read that your grandfather was an Olympic speed skater for Japan and your father played professional hockey in Japan. How did they enhance your interest and development in hockey when you were growing up in Japan?

Sato: Honestly, my dad taught me everything I knew before I decided to study abroad in Canada and the States. Unfortunately, my Grandfather passed before I was born so I could not benefit directly from his advice and help.

Lowry: When you were 12 years old, you left your native Japan to enroll at Harrington College, a private prep school in Harrington, Quebec, and to play for their hockey program. Was that a difficult decision for you and your family? What kind of challenges did you face (e.g., learning a new language; living away from your family; playing against stiffer competition; etc.)? Was it a difficult adjustment for you?

Sato: Honestly, it was an easy decision for me but probably was hard for my parents. Challenges I faced included, obviously, learning the language I've never heard of in my life. It took a little while but fortunate for me, I had great teammates that were willing to help me out with my English skills. I wouldn't be able to speak the language if it wasn't for them. Another challenge I faced was the food. I was so used to eating Japanese food and just switching to food in Canada was very difficult for me.

Lowry: Following two years at Harrington, you transferred to the Canadian International Hockey Academy in Rockland, Ontario and played two seasons with their U18 team. Then, in 2014, you made another dramatic change by moving to Mason City, Iowa and playing for the North Iowa Bulls in the North American 3 Hockey League. Why did you make the move to play hockey in the United States? Was that a challenging adjustment for you?

Sato: I was drafted in the United States Hockey League in 2014 so that was the biggest reason why I moved to the states. Also, junior A leagues in Canada don't allow imports that aren't from Canada or the States so I didn't really have an option. It sure was a difficult adjustment going from Midget hockey to Junior hockey.

Lowry: During your three seasons with the North Iowa Bulls, you experienced high points - playing for the 2015 Japan U20 team and winning the 2016 NA3HL Silver Cup national championship; and disappointments - being released after a brief stint with the NAHL Wilkes Barre/Scranton Knights. This season, you earned one last opportunity to succeed in the NAHL and you made the most out of your time with the Northeast Generals. Over the last few seasons, did you ever consider giving up your dream of playing college hockey? What kept you motivated?

Sato: No, I never even consider of giving up. I had faith - it sure was difficult getting sent down a few times but I just didn't want to give up till the last minute. People who doubted me gave me the motivation honestly.

Lowry: As far as you know, has there ever been a native of Japan to play NCAA Division I hockey? What will it mean for you and your homeland to play for UNH in Hockey East?

Sato: No, Yuki Miura (Lake Superior State University) and myself will be the first two players to play D1 college hockey. I am honored to play for the Wildcats and in Hockey East.

Lowry: What are your academic strengths and interests? When do you anticipate graduating from high school?

Sato: I was always good at Math and my interests are in Sociology and International Business. I am majoring in Sociology.


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