COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – It’s become commonplace for college athletic programs to travel outside the country during the summer in the spirit of team-building and absorbing a new culture. When North Iowa alumnus Adam Orn joined the St. John’s University hockey program two years ago, though, an overseas trip to Japan wasn’t on his radar.
“They started talking about it a year ago, and then it died down and we didn’t hear much,” said Orn. “Then all of a sudden toward the end of our season this year, it was a real thing and we were going. Playing college hockey, you don’t get the chance to go overseas and do the study-abroad (programs). This is a way we can do something different and experience another culture, and play a little hockey too.”
The trip was set up largely by St. John’s alumnus Tom Haeg, himself a former Johnnies hockey player. On May 15 of this year, Orn and the team departed on a 10-day trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, with a packed schedule, including three games against Japanese college all-star teams. Thanks to a trip over the International Date Line, the team’s flight back to the United States took off from Japan at 3:15 p.m. on May 25, and landed in Los Angeles at 9 a.m…on May 25.
The first two exhibitions in Japan went to the Johnnies, by 3-2 and 5-3 counts. The final game pitted St. John’s against the top all-star team on their schedule, though, including a number of players with Japanese National Team experience. St. John’s out-shot their hosts in that one by a 46-26 margin, but the Japanese group got the better of their visitors in a 3-2 final.
“They were good teams,” said Orn. “They were fast, they moved the puck well and they could shoot the puck. We did out-shoot them but they found a way to throw a couple in the back of the net, and their goalies made some awesome saves. It was good competition, better than I expected.”
Also on the schedule were a Yomiuri Giants professional baseball game, a curling clinic at the Karuizawa summer resort and even a visit with William Hagerty, the sitting U.S. Ambassador to Japan. A trip to the other side of the world tends to be eye-opening when it comes to the culture differences between the United States and other countries, and the former Bulls captain certainly seemed to notice that fact.
“When you’re out there, everybody keeps to themselves, on the subway and when you’re walking the streets,” said Orn. “Then we went to the baseball game and everybody was best friends, and hugging each other and jumping around. It was totally different from our culture. It was amazing to see what the other side of the world is like.”
A former Bulls teammate turned out to be an excellent advance scout for Orn on the trip. Kohei Sato played with Orn in North Iowa for two years, and hails from Nishitokio, near the capital city of Tokyo. Sato currently plays for the University of New Hampshire, and the two teammates remain in contact with each other. His advice proved to be valuable for Orn, and he got a chance to catch up with Sato’s father, Masahiro, during the trip as well.
“I actually didn’t end up seeing his dad until the third game,” said Orn. “He was the referee, so he talked to me before the game a little bit, to introduce himself again, since I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years. He actually ended up calling a penalty on me in the first five minutes, so that was funny. It was awesome to know Kohei before this trip, because he gave me such good insight going over there.”
If the goal was to strengthen team unity through spending a week-and-a-half together away from home, the mission certainly seems to have been accomplished. Add that to a list of only four seniors leaving from the 2017-18 roster, and the group is well-positioned to improve upon its 16-8-2 record from a year ago. Orn will enter his junior season with the Johnnies this fall and is pursuing a Global Business Leadership major.