International Ice Hockey Federation

Takenaka: Hockey is very cool

Takenaka: Hockey is very cool

Youth Olympic Skills champ helps Japan defence

Published 09.01.2017 16:07 GMT+1 | Author Derek O'Brien
Takenaka: Hockey is very cool
PREROV, CZECH REPUBLIC - JANUARY 08: Japan's Sena Takenaka #6 shows her puck-control skills against Finland at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship. (Photo by Steve Kingsman/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Promoted from Division I, Group A last year, Japan is aiming to stay in the top group this year at the 2017 Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship.

One of the players they're counting on to help them avoid relegation is defender Sena Takenaka.

Just 16 years and one month old, Takenaka is already a veteran on the Japanese blueline, playing now in her third U18 World Championship. She's also proven her skills against the best in the world in her age group.

Last February in Lillehammer, Norway, Takenada won the gold medal at the Youth Olympic Women’s Skills Challenge. After qualifying for the Grand Final round, she won the Puck Control event and finished second in Fastest Shot, Passing Precision and Skating Agility to top the points total. But despite performing at a high level in a wide range of on-ice skills, Takenaka thinks there are parts of her off-ice she needs to improve.

“I need to get stronger,” she stated, making a fist, “and I have to learn English better. I can understand well, but I need to speak better.”

The skilled defender is doing the best thing she can do to help in both of those areas by moving to Canada to play in the Ontario Hockey Academy.

“When I was 14 years old, I wanted to travel to another country, and I wanted to be a better hockey player,” she explained.

Obviously she was already on her way to becoming a good player, having already played on her country's U18 national team. But where does such drive come from in a young girl from a non-traditional hockey country?

“Hockey is very cool,” she said, laughing. “When I was small my older brother played. I watched his games and I liked it, so I wanted to play.”

In Japan's first game of this year's tournament, they played the host Czech team, which features two of Takenaka's OHA teammates. Her face lit up when they were mentioned.

“Yeah! Veronika (Bucifalova) is a forward and Denisa (Jandova) is a goalie. I spoke to them yesterday and today after the game. It's really nice to see them – I missed them.”

After two tight losses in their first two games against the Czech Republic 3-2 – a game they led 2-1 after 40 minutes – and Finland 2-0, a lot of people have taken notice of Japan's strong play. However, that's apparently no consolation to the Japanese players.

“We have high expectations of ourselves. We expected to win and make the next round, so it's a disappointment for us,” Takenaka said after the loss to Finland, which means they'll have to play in the relegation round. Nonetheless, she acknowledged that “Finland is a very strong team – a traditional hockey power. Physically strong with lots of speed, so it is a challenge to play against them.”

When asked why she thought she and her teammates were able to play so strongly against such talented opponents, she put hand over her heart – where the Japanese team logo was on her jacket – and answered, “Our heart and our commitment to the team.”

Takenaka's motivation to avoid relegation is strong – she is eligible to play in one more U18 World Championship after this year, and she wants it to be in the top division. In the meantime she will return to the OHA, where she has three more years before graduation from the program.

 

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