By Don Stewart
READING, Pa. – Three weeks after making history as the first Japanese player to see time in an NHL game, goalie Yutaka Fukufuji was reassigned to the Reading Royals.
“It was good,” Fukufuji said of his brief NHL stint. “I had a good time. I still can’t believe it, but it was a good time.”
The 24-year-old Hokkaido native was called up to Los Angeles last month after injuries to the Kings’ top two goalies, Dan Cloutier and Mathieu Garon. He was 0-3-0 in four games with a 0.837 save percentage.
The Kings sent Fukufuji to Reading on Friday after Garon was activated. He made his first start on Saturday and had 19 saves in a 4-1 loss at Johnstown.
Fukufuji, who will split time with rookie backstop Jeff Pietrasiak, could be a key ingredient down the stretch for the Royals. Pietrasiak could use some rest, and Fukufuji has a better chance of staying healthy when splitting time.
Fukufuji was 3-3-0 in Reading before being called up to the AHL Dec. 1. Royals coach Karl Taylor doesn’t think the demotion from L.A. will be cause for a letdown.
“He’s fine,” Taylor said. “He loved every minute and every second that he was there. He’s excited to get back here and play, and we’re excited to have him here to play. So there’s no problem with Yutaka handling anything.”
If he’d have been reassigned to the AHL, Fukufuji likely would have spent most of his time sitting behind Manchester goalie Jason LaBarbera. So he seemed happy to be in Reading.
“I do my best here,” he said. “I just have to do my best. I’m pretty happy, though. I’m pretty happy to be back here. I’ll get to play more games. If I stay (in Manchester), I can’t play.”