MOUNT CLEMENS >> Chiho Osawa had dreamt of being an Olympic athlete when she was 12 years old.
That dream came true.
Osawa played for Japan’s women’s ice hockey team in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I was glad my dream came true,” said Osawa, who’s competing this summer in the four-team women’s division of the Eastside Elite Hockey League out of Mount Clemens Ice Arena. “I love all things about hockey, especially the speed of the game.”
Not only did she compete, but her teammates named her the captain, which still shocks her to this day.
“Our team has some player who’s (much) older than me, so I was worried about (pulling) our team together,” Osawa said.
Her teammate, Tricia MacLeod, on the EEHL team is amazed at how high a level Osawa’s game is at.
“She’s so fluid on her skates,” MacLeod said. “She’s such a good skater and play maker. She’s so smooth you almost don’t notice her. She’s so good on her edges and so good with the puck.
“I never ever thought I’d be playing with an Olympian, ever,” MacLeod added.
There was also a language barrier that needed to be overcome.
“I was curious how that would affect our game,” MacLeod said. “It doesn’t even matter. She sees the ice so well that she’s very easy to play with.”
Japan didn’t win a game in Sochi and got outscored 7-1 in Group B.
Then, they lost to Germany in the seventh-place game, 3-2, in the eight-team tournament.
“At the Olympics, my conditioning and mentality was the best,” Osawa said. “So I brought out my best. However, I felt the difference between Japan and other teams.”
Osawa, 23, added that the teams Japan played against were just more powerful, shot and passed the puck better and had better goalkeeping.
“No,” Osawa said when asked if it was discouraging to lose every game. “I feel that we have to (get) stronger. I think that Japan has a good chance of success.”
And things have turned around.
Japan beat the Czech Republic in the decisive game of the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship qualification series last November.
The win qualified Japan for the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Malmo, Sweden. It was the sixth time Japan had qualified for the tournament.
Japan won two straight games in the best-of-three relegation series with Germany to book its ticket to Kamloops, Canada in 2016.
It was a huge moment for Japan, which has only avoided being sent down once (2008) at the Women’s World Championships.
“Yes, I think so,” Osawa said when asked if she thought hockey was beginning to grow as a sport in her country. “Staying in the top division at the Women’s World Championships was big for us. I think that we growing up step-by-step.”
Osawa, who didn’t have a favorite hockey player she looked up to growing up, began skating at the age of three and started playing hockey at age six.
Osawa, who has a younger brother that also plays hockey, began playing hockey because her dad, Hirotoshi, did.
And she honors him by wearing his No. 6 when she plays for her club team in Japan.
Her national team number is 12, which was chosen by the head coach.
Osawa has been in the United States a month and will be here for a year of training at EXEDY Globalparts Corporation. She’ll also be playing for Victory Honda Women’s 19+ Hockey Club this fall.
In Japan, she worked at Dynax and was in charge of the sales department.
She was born in Tomakomia, Japan, which is coincidentally referred to as Hockeytown. And that’s why the team she’ll cheer for the most plays out of Hockeytown in Detroit.