CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After playing his last three seasons in the Japan League, Takahito Suzuki made his North American debut on Friday scoring a hat trick in Charlotte’s 5-2 win over defending Kelly Cup Champion Greenville.
The 27-year-old Suzuki becomes the third Japanese player in East Coast Hockey League history, joining Hiroyuki Miura, who played six games with the Wheeling Thunderbirds in 1993-94, and Hideji Tsuchida, who played five games with Dayton in 1996-97. Suzuki averaged more than a point a game during three seasons with Kokudo in the Japan Ice Hockey League earning Rookie of the Year honors following the 1999-2000 season.
With the Checkers trailing 2-0, Suzuki scored a power-play goal at 10:35 in the second period, assisted by Nic Bilotto and Allen Egeland. The smallest player on Charlotte’s roster at 5-8 and 165 pounds, Suzuki tied the game with a goal at 15:27 in the second, assisted by Vince Malts. He later gave Charlotte a 4-2 lead with his second power-play goal at 18:51 in the second, assisted by Kenton Smith. Bilotto took away Suzuki’s chance at a natural hat trick with a goal at 18:14, assisted by Eduard Pershin and Jay Kopischke.
Suzuki, who speaks broken English, told The Charlotte Observer that his performance was a result of “Good linemates.”
“He’s a dynamic offensive player. Every time he’s out there, he’s a threat to score,” Egeland told The Charlotte Observer. ” He’s a really intelligent player. There’s a language barrier, but he knows the game.”