In hockey, we often hear from coaches about players seizing their opportunities when presented.

We rarely see players seize their opportunity, only to see them walk away to serve a greater purpose.

The Abbotsford Canucks regular season concludes in three weeks. They are currently jockeying with the Bakersfield Condors over who will play host during the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Due to a laundry list of player injuries and recalls, Japanese-born PTO player Yushiroh Hirano saw himself vaulted into a top-six role, including plenty of ice time on the third-best powerplay in the AHL.

Despite this opportunity, and a real chance to earn himself an AHL contract for next season, Hirano will instead be leaving Abbotsford ahead of their playoff run to pursue his greater purpose.

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On April 12th, the Abbotsford Canucks will release the 26-year-old Hirano from his contract so that he may join the Japanese National Team for the Divison-1B World Championship Tournament in Poland.

If being one of two current Japanese-born skaters playing in North American pro hockey wasn’t enough, Hirano’s decision to leave the club to help further his National team now certainly makes him a unicorn of the sport.

Signed to a PTO back on January 5th, Hirano initially struggled to find his footing with Abbotsford. Playing primarily in a fourth-line role with occasionally second-unit powerplay time, Hirano could only muster three points through his first fifteen games played.

After missing four games as a healthy scratch, the opportunities came knocking.

Since March 1st, the Abbotsford Canucks saw eight forwards combine for 75 man-games lost due to injury. Call-ups of Nic Petan, Sheldon Rempal, Sheldon Dries, Will Lockwood, and Phil Di Giuseppe saw the farm team lose an additional 30-games.

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The lack of bodies meant a promotion for Hirano, who moved into the top-six alongside John Stevens and the first powerplay unit as the shooter along the left wall.

Over his final fifteen games with the club, Hirano produced three goals and six assists while appearing on ice for thirteen goals-for and just six goals-against.

Every season, hundreds of ECHL players compete with the hopes of earning an AHL Professional Tryout contract (PTO). The AHL PTO runs 25 games long, but the player may be released any time before the 25 games are complete. If the player fulfills plays all 25 games, then the player is eligible to sign either a second PTO with the club or an AHL standard player contract (SPC).

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Most of the ECHLers that get signed to PTOs only compete in a handful of games. Some will carve out roles in limited ice time, but the majority will struggle to earn a look beyond the standard 25-game PTO.

Every player cut from an AHL PTO or ATO (Amateur Tryout contract) dreams of the opportunities afforded by Hirano.

Hirano could easily take this top-six opportunity, play out Abbotsford’s final run of games, appear in some playoff games, and attempt to earn an official AHL contract for next season.

The decision to leave the team in hopes of growing the sport in his home country can’t go unappreciated by hockey fans.

In a goodbye video provided by the Abbotsford Canucks, Trent Cull remarked upon Hirano’s time, You know it’s not very often you bring guys in halfway through a year from a lower level and all of a sudden you miss these guys! We understand that he’s leaving, and [it’s] a little bittersweet! I wish him well at the World Championships; it’s an honour, obviously, to represent your country.”

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“I believe that playing in a league as high as the ECHL, AHL, and NHL, and delivering that experience to the children of Japan, and having them be moved and encouraged by it, will lead to their own dreams. Just as there were pioneers in baseball who challenged the MLB, I would like to accomplish the same thing in the ice hockey world. That is why I will cherish my “time,” my “life,” and push forward towards the top.”

The above quote is from the Bio of Hirano’s blog site, one that he frequently uses in-season to document his journey as a professional hockey player in the ECHL.

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Again, can you say unicorn?!

When Hirano last spoke with CanucksArmy’s Chris Faber, he highlighted the challenges he faces concerning his goals. “Hockey has been less popular in the last ten years,” said Hirano. “There are many things that are lacking in the current Japanese ice hockey world but hope one day we can excite the people of Japan again. When I was young, there weren’t many club teams. The teams were divided into elementary schools, and there were only about six teams in each area.”

From the first Japanese-born skater to score in the AHL, to healthy-scratch, to a top-six fixture, Hirano made the most out of every opportunity presented in Abbotsford to try and spark Japanese hockey fans’ excitement in a very short timeframe.

Now, Hirano has the opportunity of furthering that excitement, and his dream, by assisting the National Team in promoting from Division-1B to Division-1A and, with it, the growth of hockey in Japan.

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“For me, a dream is life itself. I believe that my value is to become a person who can definitely produce results and have a positive impact on Japan in the near future.”

Maybe the Abbotsford brass will bring Hirano back next season based on the strength of his final fifteen games, his strong relationship with the community, and his impact at this upcoming World Championships.

If not, all the best to Hirano in his hockey journey.

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