YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK, RUSSIA – The Nippon Paper Cranes finished runner-up in the Asia League Ice Hockey on Thursday after losing their final game before their disbandment to Russian team Sakhalin.
The Cranes brought down the curtain on their 70-year history after suffering a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 3 of the best-of-five final.
After two defeats earlier this month in Kushiro, Hokkaido, the Cranes lost on the road to close out the series.
Shinnosuke Kato scored the opener for the Cranes in the second period and the visitors led 3-0 in the third. But Sakhalin equalized in less than 20 minutes and scored the winner in the first overtime period.
“More than the frustration, I’m starting to feel lonely that I will not be able to play with my teammates again,” Cranes captain Hiroki Ueno said.
“I think (the fans) were believing in a miracle that we might be able to keep the team if we won this championship. But we couldn’t deliver the results,” Ueno said. “We let the win slip by.”
Nippon Paper Industries Co. had previously announced its decision to shut down its four-time Asia League-winning squad after the end of the season. The company is looking for a buyer for the team.
The team was founded in 1949 and became the Nippon Paper Cranes after a company merger in 1993. The Cranes last won the Asia League title in the 2013-14 season.
This season, eight teams — four Japanese, three South Korean and one Russian — competed in the Asia League.