Shin Larsson-Yahata interview

Friday, 29th August 2003

Born in Stockholm Sweden, Shin Larsson-Yahata has a Japanese mother and Swedish father. Raised in Sweden, he recalled the influences that he drew upon as he progressed through his junior years. “I remember watching the great Russian Red Army teams and being amazed at their skill and speed. The line of Larionov, Makarov and Krutov were a joy to watch and I hoped to be like them.”

Shin played hockey in Sweden until he was 19 including one season in the Elitserien icing with the Leksand Stars. He then moved to North America having been spotted by a scout from Verdun College of the Quebec Major-Junior Hockey League – a farm team of the Montreal Canadiens. Shin advised, ”After my season with the Stars, I enjoyed going to Canada very much. It was a good experience for me to play in a different style of hockey, I think I learned a lot from it.”

Despite a solid season with Verdun, Shin was not drafted and with the choice of returning to Sweden or trying Japan, he chose to go east. Japan having been awarded the 1998 Winter Olympics were keen to strengthen their squad and needed players to play in Japan for at least three seasons in order to qualify for Olympic status. Shin signed to play in the capital Tokyo with the Kokudo Bunnies and quickly became a lynchpin of their domestic success and earned his place on the Japanese National Team.

Over the years Shin has developed his game into that of playmaker. A former teammate in Kokudo, John Tucker said of him, “Shinny is a great guy, skates well, works real hard in both ends of the ice and is very good at face-offs. I played with him for three years and he’s a very good player – you won’t go wrong with him.”

Playing in Japan catapulted Shin into the attention of the national team and he was quickly selected to the squad as it built towards the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. “I really enjoyed playing for the national team and representing my country. Playing in the Olympics has to be the most memorable time of my career – it was an honour to be a part of it and to get the chance to play against so many of the best players in the world.”

After eight years in Japan, starring in the Olympics and having won five league championships with the Kokudo Bunnies, last season saw Shim return to Europe to play. “I had eight great years in Japan, but felt that I need a new challenge and motivation. I signed in Mulhouse a bit later than normal and the hockey as well as the lifestyle was quite different to that in Japan. France was okay, but I felt this summer that I had to again try and find something more challenging.”

Returning to Sweden for the summer and waiting to find a new team, Shin has trained at the home of the Leksand Stars. “I enjoy coming home to Sweden. I lived in Japan for eight years and that too was home, but coming back here I see my parents and people I grew up with. It also gives me the chance to train in Leksand – a real hockey town – there are lots of quality players here right now, so it keeps you in good shape. Leksand is a beautiful part of Sweden and a great place to train in the summer.”

During his time in Japan, Shin played with and became firm friends with a player familiar to British hockey fans from season 2002/03 – Ryan Kuwabara, formerly with the Belfast Giants. “Ryan has told me a few times that he enjoyed playing in Britain, so when my agent called to say there was interest in me from the team in Manchester, I began to get excited. I am very happy to be coming to Manchester and will wear the Phoenix shirt with pride and honour. I’m a team player and will do my very best for the new team and its fans.”

Self assessing his style of play he noted, “I’m not the biggest of goal scorers, I get my share but, I don’t score bunches of them. I’m a playmaker and work both ends of the ice. I’m pretty good at face-offs and I like to think I make good decisions with the puck in feeding my wingers and keeping possession.“

Away from the rink, Shin Larsson-Yahata is very much a sporty type. “I love sports. I like to golf, play tennis and badminton – playing other sports is how I relax from hockey. Of course I like the odd beer as well, but playing well and helping the team is my main goal.”