‘Grandpa’ goalie inspires hockey team

Jiji Press

Japan goalie Shinobu Fukushima keeps his eye on the action during a match against South Korea in January in Nagano.

Jiji Press At 61, Japanese para ice hockey goalie Shinobu Fukushima hopes to make good use of his long experience at the forthcoming Winter Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“There’s no one else playing at this age, even in other countries,” Fukushima laughs.

His first Paralympics appearance dates back to the 2002 Salt Lake Games.

Fukushima was a 23-year-old goalkeeper in an amateur soccer team when a spinal cord injury from a traffic accident left him in a wheelchair.

Since starting para ice hockey in 1998, Fukushima has played while working at Nick, a Nagoya-based company producing and selling wheelchairs.

Shots can exceed 100 kilometers per hour in para ice hockey, but his long experience in goal helps him. “I can sense when shots are coming,” Fukushima said.

He is also a big psychological support for the rest of the Japan squad, around half of whom will be Paralympics debutants. Fukushima is a “father figure,” said Yoshihiro Shioya, 29, the youngest player in the squad.

The goalie can be tough on teammates during matches to drive their performance, but off the ice, he is a gentle figure. “I’m grandpa,” he said. “I don’t say anything normally.”

While facing physical limits, Fukushima wants to communicate the appeal of ice hockey to Japanese fans and his own experience to younger generations of players.Speech

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