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Cranes book spot in Asia League finals

Kyodo

The Nippon Paper Cranes beat South Korea’s Daemyung Killer Whales 4-3 in their semifinal game Thursday and advanced to the Asia League Ice Hockey finals for the first time in five seasons.

The Killer Whales took a 1-0 lead 12 seconds after hitting the ice, but Ikki Ikeda equalized off a pass from captain Hiroki Ueno and Naoya Kubo put the visitors ahead in the first period at Seonhak International Ice Rink.

Kenta Takagi and Maxim Potapov contributed second-period goals to withstand a late offensive from Daemyung and earn the Cranes’ third straight win in the best-of-five semifinal.

“Our movement at the start of the game wasn’t very good, but it was huge to turn it around in the first period,” Cranes coach Hiroaki Kobayashi said. “Our goal of winning the championship became clear.”

Russia’s Sakhalin prevailed 1-0 over South Korea’s Anyang Halla in Thursday’s other semifinal game and leads the series 2-1.

Nippon Paper will face the winner of that series in the final starting with two away games on Mar. 9 to 10. The remaining games are scheduled to be held at the Cranes’ home base, the Kushiro Ice Arena in Hokkaido, on Mar. 14, 16 and 17.

“I’m excited to advance to the finals,” Ueno said. “I thought if we just stayed calm and played our own hockey, we could make a comeback. I started out determined to play the final in Kushiro. I’m glad we were able to achieve that.”

After the season began last December, Nippon Paper Industries Co. announced it would shut down the four-time Asia League-winning ice hockey club. The company is currently looking for a buyer for the team.

The Nippon Paper franchise has won the national championship seven times since becoming the Cranes after a company merger in 1993. The squad last won the Asia League title in the 2013-14 season.

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