WILKES-BARRE — Every one of the 18 players attending the first day of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins training camp all shared a passion to pursue their pro hockey dreams.
But none of them made as much of a commitment to reach the ice for Monday’s practice like Yushiroh Hirano.
The native of Tomakomai, Japan, traveled 6,195 miles to reach Wilkes-Barre for training camp.
“It’s so hard to me. I got jet lag and heavy legs,” Hirano said in broken English. “But I don’t want an excuse. It’s hard, but I’m so excited. I’m so happy I came here.”
While the lengthy trip was one obstacle in Hirano’s quest, he is considered a long-shot to make the team after being invited to camp as a try-out.
But it’s not out of the question.
The 23-year-old winger has a noticeably hard shot, keeps up with the pace and listens to instructions extremely well — an attribute that reflects on Hirano’s native culture.
“I noticed when you tell him to do something, he does,” said head coach Clark Donatelli. “When you tell him to go to the line, he goes to the line. He doesn’t cheat. You can tell he’s from a disciplined environment.”
Donatelli could also tell after Monday’s practice that Hirano is a good hockey player who deserves a legitimate look.
“He can skate. We liked what we saw,” Donatelli said. “We’ll see if the consistency can stay there.”
If he makes the team, Hirano would be the first player from Japan to play for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and the second to ever play in the American Hockey League. Hirano is no stranger to North American hockey. He spent the 2015-16 season in the USHL playing for the Youngstown Phantoms, recording 24 goals and 46 points in 54 games. He also participated in development camps for the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.
Hirano spent last season playing in Sweden and the rest of his career — dating back to 2011 — consisted of league and tournament play back home in Japan.
The key to Hirano’s game is his hard shot. He perfected it — and continues to do so — through a daily regimen of shooting 200 pucks every day going back to high school.
“I have confidence in my shot,” Hirano said.
Hirano’s pro hockey dream began in a country that is not considered a hockey hotbed. In Japan, Hirano said, hockey isn’t a major sport. His involvement occurred when he was 3-years-old, following in the footsteps of his father who played in Japan’s pro league. Hirano’s dreams were further heightened by watching NHL games on television while growing up.
His favorite player was Joe Sakic and when Hirano played for Youngstown he traveled to Pittsburgh to see a few Penguin games. He marveled at Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel and studied the NHL game while he watched from the stands.
“Everybody’s so good. Everybody’s quick. It’s smart hockey,” Hirano said, adding the smaller ice surface in North America compliments his willingness to shoot the puck from any where on the ice.
While Hirano would make history if he lands a job anywhere in the Pittsburgh organization, he said there is more than personal achievement on the line.
“If I could make the team, I can show Japanese kids. They can get their dreams from me,” Hirano said. “I want to do that.”
Training camp notebook
– Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s camp will become crowded on Tuesday as 18 players assigned by Pittsburgh will arrive. The list includes forwards Tobias Lindberg, Jimmy Hayes, Adam Johnson, Joseph Cramarossa, Thomas Di Pauli, Teddy Blueger, Sam Miletic, Sam Lafferty, Anthony Angello, Linus Olund, Garrett Wilson and Ryan Haggerty; defensemen Chris Summers, Stefan Elliott, Will O’Neill, Jeff Taylor and Ethan Prow; and goaltender John Muse.
– Donatelli said he doesn’t expect to make any cuts until after the final preseason game, which takes place in Hershey on Sept. 30.
– As far as naming a captain to replace the retired Tom Kostopoulos, Donatelli said it’s being discussed but the process won’t be rushed.
– When Muse arrives, goaltender Anthony Peters will find himself in a competition for one of two goaltending jobs on the team. Peters said it’s nothing new in his career.
“It’s just a good test and it seems I’m always in a position like that,” Peters said. “You find comfort in the uncomfortable. It helps keep you in the moment.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky