PRINCETON, N.J. – Augusta forward Daisuke Obara and Charlotte defenseman Kengo Ito are listed on the Team Japan roster for the 2004 International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championships scheduled for April 24-May 5 in the Czech Republic. Takahito Suzuki and Yutaka Fukufuji, who both played in the ECHL in 2002-03, are also listed on the roster. Ito, Obara and Suzuki all played for Japan in the 2003 IIHF World Championships in Finland.
Obara began the season in Peoria and did not score a point in four games. Claimed off waivers by Charlotte on December 10, Obara had a game-winning goal and 11 points (5g-6a) in 24 games with the Checkers. Traded to Augusta on February 5, Obara scored two points (1g-1a) in 12 games with Augusta. A regular on the Japanese National Team and regarded as the top player in Japan, Ito became the second Japanese player to register a point in the ECHL when he scored a shorthand goal in November. Coming to Charlotte from the Nippon Paper Cranes of the Japanese Hockey League, Ito has scored 17 points (3g-14a) in 51 games for Charlotte and is tied for second on the team in plus-minus (+13).
The third Japanese player in league history, Suzuki became the first to register a point and the first to participate in the ECHL All-Star Game, helping the Northern Conference to an 8-2 win. Suzuki ranked 14th among ECHL rookies while scoring 49 points (24g-25a) and appearing in all 72 games for Charlotte in 2002-03. Suzuki led Charlotte with nine power-play goals and ranked third on the team in goals. Fukufuji became the fourth Japanese-born player and the first goaltender to play in the ECHL going 4-3-0 with a goals against average of 3.13 and a save percentage of .915 in nine games with Cincinnati in 2002-03.
The first two Japanese-born players to play in the ECHL were 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.