On Feb. 11, the Sacred Heart University (SHU) men’s ice hockey team beat the U.S. Air Force Academy 5-3. While SHU came away with the victory, it was freshman forward Chikara Hanzawa who stole the show.
About halfway through the first period, while falling to the ice, Hanzawa scored his first collegiate goal to put SHU up 2-0. Hanzawa’s goal was so impressive that it made its way onto SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the night.
“It was truly a great feeling to finally get my first goal,” said Hanzawa. “I was struggling at the beginning of the season. It took me a while to get comfortable, but my coaches and teammates helped me a lot and this wouldn’t be possible without them.”
Growing up in Japan, it was Hanzawa’s father that introduced him to the game of ice hockey.
“I started playing hockey when I was 3 years old,” said Hanzawa. “My dad played in the Asia League Ice Hockey in Japan. He introduced me to the sport and taught me how to skate from a very young age.”
Before his collegiate days, Hanzawa played junior hockey for the Minnesota Wilderness of the North American Hockey League (NAHL). From there, he was traded to the South Shore Kings, a team based in Foxborough, Mass.
“That is when I found my offense and started producing,” said Hanzawa. “My time with the Kings is when Sacred Heart first discovered me, and Coach Marottolo started recruiting me to come and play here.”
The transition from junior hockey to the NCAA was an eye-opening experience for Hanzawa, who had just one point in his previous 19 games.
“I was surprised at the differences between junior hockey and college hockey,” said Hanzawa. “Every single game matters, and they are much more physical and competitive.”
Getting used to the NCAA wasn’t the only obstacle for Hanzawa. The Tokyo native needed to learn to adapt to the cultural differences here in the United States.
“I was definitely a little bit nervous,” said Hanzawa. “It was difficult going to a new country that I’ve never been to. I was only 17 when I came to America, and I couldn’t even speak English. The language and culture barriers were hard to overcome.”
For someone who was constantly being exposed to new things, Hanzawa felt comfort in knowing that he always had hockey to fall back on.
“Hockey was always there for me,” said Hanzawa. “Everything around me was changing but hockey always stays the same. I formed many friendships on the ice, and I feel connected to people through hockey. It made the transition of coming to America much easier.”
Sacred Heart Athletics contributed to this article.