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NHL draft pick Tyler Inamoto trying to be trailblazer for Japanese hockey players

A hockey stick doesn’t resemble a samurai sword, but when Tyler Inamoto takes his primary weapon in his hands, he tries to channel the same principles on the ice that samurai had centuries ago.

Inamoto, who lives in Barrington, tries to live his life by the Japanese code of Bushido, which dates to the beginning of the 17th century. Its virtues include integrity, courage, respect, honor, duty, loyalty, honesty and compassion.

“I do see a lot of overlap (with hockey),” Inamoto said of the code. “In duty and loyalty, you have to be committed to the team and always support each other. And courage, you have to have courage to put your body on the line every night and do whatever it takes to win.

“Then respect, hockey is a game of respect. You have to respect all your opponents. If you don’t, it can end up pretty bad for you.”

That’s how Inamoto, 18, has molded his young career growing up with Japanese ancestry. This weekend, Inamoto, who has dual citizenship in Canada and the U.S., is projected to go in the top three rounds of the entry draft and hopes to become one of the few players of Japanese descent to lace up his skates in the NHL.

“It gives you the opportunity to be an inspiration to future kids growing up in Japan, or (who) have Japanese descent in them, and are wanting to start playing hockey,” Inamoto said. “So I don’t take it lightly. It’s something that I have to earn.”

Hockey-reference.com lists only two players born in Japan who have played in the NHL: Yutaka Fukufuji, who played four games with the Kings in 2007, and Ryan O’Marra, who played for the Oilers and Ducks.

The NHL said it is unsure of how many players of Japanese heritage have played in the league because it doesn’t track players’ ancestry. But it is believed Inamoto, a 6-foot-2, 194-pound defenseman, would be one of a small group of Japanese descent to make it to the NHL.

Inamoto was born in New Jersey, and his family moved to Barrington about four years ago. He began playing hockey when he was 4 after his father, Barry, who played when he was younger, encouraged him to give it a try.

Inamoto went to high school at Shattuck-Saint Mary’s, the hockey factory in Minnesota that produced Jonathan Toews, among several other NHL players, and Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was initially a Maple Leafs fan, but when his family moved to Barrington, he got swept up in the Blackhawks‘ success and became a Hawks fan when they won Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015.

He came to value Japanese customs thanks to his late grandfather Fujio Inamoto, who died in 2014. Tyler said Fujio was interned in camps in British Columbia during World War II and said his grandfather had a big impact on his development.

“He taught me a lot about our heritage,” Inamoto said. “And he taught me a lot about hard work and perseverance, as well, because coming out of internment camp, he had to work hard to support the family since he lost all the land, and he persevered through all that. I learned a lot from him.”

Barry Inamoto joked that Tyler must have learned about the Bushido code from watching “too many samurai movies,” but he said Tyler’s grandfather helped mold his character on and off the ice. Fujio would show up to as many of Tyler’s games and workouts as he could, no matter his age.

“He was a great role model to him,” Barry said. “Just the way my dad carried himself — respect and courage and honesty and those types of aspects that are a part of that Bushido code he lives by.”

Tyler Inamoto hopes to see the game spread to Japan and other Asian countries, but he acknowledged for that to happen, there would need to be investment and interest in playing from a young age.

“(There’s a) lack of knowledge of the game,” Inamoto said. “There’s a few coaches over there, but it’s just a lack of knowledge of what hockey is.”

Inamoto is a big-bodied defenseman who can be a physical presence with a big shot. He said he has drawn a lot of comparisons to the Hawks’ Brent Seabrook and will bring that element to any team that drafts him as he works to improve his offensive game.

He played for the U.S. under-18 team that placed first at the Five National tournament in Sweden and will play in college at Wisconsin.

“I’m hard to play against,” Inamoto said. “I make good first passes. So that’ll bring a physical aspect to the game not many guys in this draft have. I’ll be a good shutdown defenseman who can also bring offense.”

Inamoto doesn’t need much off-ice motivation to make it to the league. He is trying to make history — and trying to honor the man who taught him all about his family’s history.

“I’m going to work my hardest,” Inamoto said, “make a team, contribute to them and influence future generations of Japanese to play hockey.”

Source: Barrington’s Tyler Inamoto trying to be trailblazer for Japanese hockey players

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