By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. In this month’s edition, we take a look at a new Asian boxer on the rise, and the possible future stars in the NHL.
NHL features several Asian Americans
Names like Suzuki and Yamamoto appear to be odd names on the backs of NHL uniforms, as opposed to baseball uniforms. The sport of hockey is not known as one in which many Asians partake. The National Hockey League’s season started this October, and there are several Asian players to look out for.
Nick Suzuki and Kailer Yamamoto were both picked in the first round of June’s 2017 NHL draft. In addition, Jason Robertson was drafted in the second round of the NHL draft. During the 2015-2016 season, just four players out of 983 in the NHL were of Asian descent. With the Asian population growing in the United States and Canada, we could see more Asian NHL players.
Suzuki was selected by the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the new NHL franchise this year. Suzuki, who is Asian Canadian, grew up in London in Ontario, Canada. His great-great-grandparents immigrated to Canada from Japan. The 18-year-old played for a minor league team in Ontario before being selected. As with most draft picks, Suzuki spent time in training camp with the NHL team and was released to play for his junior team with the hopes of coming back soon.
Yamamoto is originally from Spokane, Wash. The 19-year-old was selected by the Edmonton Oilers from the minor league team in Spokane. His family emigrated from Okinawa, Japan to Hawaii, before they settled in Eastern Washington. His family was incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II. Yamamoto is making a big argument to start the season with Edmonton, as he leads the team in preseason goals. The team intended to send him down to the minor leagues so that he can learn how to play in the NHL. But his talent is showing that he may be able to stay with the club immediately.
Robertson, 18, who is Filipino American, grew up in Southern California in Arcadia before moving to Michigan. He was drafted by the Dallas Stars. His love for the sport began when he attended Los Angeles Kings hockey games as a child with his grandfather and father, who were season ticket holders. He became an immediate fan. Although he will start the season with a minor league hockey team, Robertson hopes to catch on with the Stars soon.
All three players recognized the uniqueness of their Asian heritage and what it means to be one of the few Asians drafted into the league. Although each is relatively young, they realize that they are role models to up-and-coming Asian players. While each player may not make it to the NHL this season, there is hope to see one of them in the league soon.
Rungvisai wins rematch against Gonzalez
Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai showed that his first upset victory over Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez was not a fluke. In their rematch in New York last month, Rungvisai controlled the fight against the previously unbeaten Gonzalez and knocked him out in the 4th round. He retained the WBC super flyweight title. “I trained very hard for four months. I fought for Thailand, and this is what I dedicate this fight to, Thailand. For the first fight, I only trained for two months. I knew I was going to knock him out,” Rungvisai said in an interview post-fight.
Rungvisai’s fight confirmed that the 115-pound fighter is one of the best in the world. The Thai boxer’s first win earlier this year was a surprise and he was largely an underdog. Even with the win, he was an underdog going into this fight. Notably, he earned $175,000 for this fight, but the challenger, Gonzalez, made $600,000. This was likely due to the name recognition from the once unbeaten champion. Also, Gonzalez was a fan favorite, as the Nicaraguan fought in front of a partisan crowd. The second fight took place at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
For Rungvisai, who found boxing as a way out of poverty, he can now name his price. He is now a top fighter in a weight class that is usually disregarded. However, due to his exciting style, fans are taking notice. Similar to Manny Pacquiao at the beginning of his storied career, Rungvisai is being heralded as a national hero. He was mobbed by fans and the press when he returned home to Thailand. Could there be another boxing hero for Asia?
Koo plays for Chargers
Younghoe Koo made his NFL debut with the Los Angeles Chargers this season as the team’s kicker. The undrafted free agent from Georgia Southern impressed the team enough that he won the spot and made the roster.
“It was amazing. I was speechless,” said Koo in interviews with the media.
“I had a flashback of the journey,” reflected Koo of his move to America. Koo emigrated from South Korea and lived in New Jersey when he was in sixth grade. Koo did not know of the game of American football until he moved to this country. Football offered him a social circle and a chance to acclimate himself to American culture. Aside from football, Koo excelled in track and competed in the high jump, long jump, triple jump, and javelin. After a high school career of kicking, he went on to Georgia Southern. He was the Lou Groza winner last year, an award given to the nation’s best college kicker. In his career at Georgia Southern, he was an all-conference choice.
Unfortunately, Koo was cut by the team after just four games. The Chargers released Koo on Oct. 4 and replaced him with Nick Novak.
The Korean-born kicker went 3 of 6 on field goals to start the season, and two of those misses came in clutch situations. In a 24-21 loss to the Broncos in Week 1, Koo had a 44-yard field goal blocked with just one second to play. In a 19-17 Week 2 loss to the Dolphins, Koo missed a 44-yard game-winning attempt with just five seconds left to play. Despite those misses, the Chargers stuck with him for another two weeks before dropping the hammer.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said, “Players have a bad day, or a bad game every once in awhile. But watching him over the last couple weeks, pregame, in practice, I’ve seen enough. It was time to bring in someone with a little more consistency, and someone with more experience.”
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.