• Kyodo, Staff Report


Nippon Paper Industries Co. announced Wednesday its decision to shut down its four-time Asia League-winning ice hockey club in a bid to streamline management and cope with declining revenues.

The Japanese paper manufacturer said it will look for other companies willing to underwrite the Nippon Paper Cranes team, which was founded in 1949 in the Hokkaido city of Kushiro, when the season ends in March.

“If possible, we hope (to remain) local, but we are looking all over the nation to find companies that can take over,” team representative Atsumi Yasunaga said.

Cranes general manager Hiroaki Sasaki said, “This is a team that the people of Kushiro have raised. I wanted to see the team improve even more.

“(This decision) is extremely regrettable.”

The team also said it will see if any players want to transfer to different clubs and will deal with those cases individually.

The Nippon Paper franchise, whose home base remains in Kushiro, has won the national championship seven times since becoming the Cranes after a company merger in 1993.

“We sincerely thank everyone who cheered us on and greatly supported the Nippon Paper Cranes for many years,” the team said in a statement announcing the news.

If a replacement owner cannot be found, the Cranes would become the first Japanese team to close shop since the powerhouse Seibu Prince Rabbits ceased operations in 2009.

Under head coach Hiroaki Kobayashi, Nippon Paper finished third in this month’s All Japan Ice Hockey Championship.

Three other Japanese teams, the Tohoku Free Blades, Nikko Ice Bucks and Oji Eagles, also compete in the eight-team Asia League along with teams from South Korea, China and Russia.

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