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NWHL: Interview with Nana Fujimoto of the New York Riveters and Team Japan

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I was fortunate enough to ask star goaltender Nana Fujimoto of Smile Japan and the New York Riveters a few questions as the NWHL's inaugural season approaches.

Martin Rose/Getty Images
In the offseason leading up to the NWHL's inaugural season there were few headlines bigger than the Riveters' signing of Nana Fujimoto, the star goaltender from Smile Japan. Prior to joining the Riveters, Fujimoto played her club hockey with Vortex Sapporo. Fujimoto, who is just 26 years old, was a standout at the NWHL's International Camp that spanned from July 23rd to July 26th which was held in Massachusetts. She is best known for her inspirational and brilliant play for Japan's National Team in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and her unforgettable performance in the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championships that earned her recognition as the Best Goaltender of the tournament. In that tournament Fujimoto allowed just 8 goals in the 5 games she appeared in while posting a .934 SV% and a 1.52 GAA. The depth and talent that the Riveters have between the pipes is the envy of the league and Nana Fujimoto is a big part of that.
Nana Fujimoto of the Riveters
Photo Credits: NWHL.co

"It's impossible not to fall in love with Nana Fujimoto. She is one of the best goaltenders in the world and her sheer joy while playing is contagious to teammates and fans alike. She literally traveled across the globe to earn a spot in the NWHL and we are both honored and ecstatic to welcome a member of Smile Japan to the league."

-Dani Rylan, GM of the Riveters

Fujimoto is one of the three goaltenders that the Riveters have under contract. Understandably, many have her projected as the club's starter given her elite performances in international competition over the last two years. The Riveters' goaltending coach, Jonathan de Castro, will be tapping into the talent and potential of Fujimoto, Shenae Lundberg, and Jenny Scrivens. Coach de Castro, who is the founder of the De Castro Goaltending Academy in New York City was kind enough to give me his thoughts on coaching Nana this season.

Coach Jonathan de Castro

Coach Jonathan de Castro on the ice with the Riveters.

"Definitely excited to have [Fujimoto] on the roster. I'm looking forward to seeing her out on the ice with us and building a relationship to help progress her career and ease the transition to playing in North America. She comes with a lot of eyes focused on her from overseas and it should be good for us, and especially our league, to have that buzz when she steps out there."

-Jonathan de Castro, Goaltending Coach of the New York Riveters

Fujimoto with an unreal pad save at the International Camp.

Although small in stature, Nana Fujimoto's focus, work ethic, and athleticism have made her one of most outstanding goaltenders in the world. Her peerless quickness and agility in net will have Riveters' fans jumping up from their seats throughout the season. Although her amazing personality and twitter account have made her fans across the world fall in love with her, there's no denying that Fujimoto takes her sport very seriously. I didn't think it was possible, but I found that I couldn't help but respect and admire Nana even more after my interview with her. Nana Fujimoto has traveled across the world not just for the opportunity to be a pioneer of her sport and play in the first paid professional women's league in North America, but also to help promote the growth of hockey in Japan.

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Mike Murphy: I understand that you started playing hockey at age 6. Can you tell us what growing up as a hockey player in Japan is like?

Nana Fujimoto

Ice hockey is not a popular sport yet in Japan. Although men's hockey has several categories based on age, women have to join adult clubs after age 12. Even in Hokkaido, which is one of the biggest hockey prefectures in Japan thanks to its cold weather, the number of young hockey players is decreasing. Therefore, I would like to make hockey better known in Japan and hopefully increase the number of players.

MM: Will playing in the NWHL with the Riveters help the growth of hockey in Japan?

Nana Fujimoto

I think it could help people get to know ice hockey in Japan because it's sensational news that I became the first Japanese professional female ice hockey player. Also, it would be a good influence for Japanese hockey if I could use the experience gained in NWHL for Team Japan and other activities.

MM:  Before signing with the Riveters you had never visited New York City. Do you like New York City? What have you seen or done so far? What do you enjoy here?

note: At the time of this interview Nana had yet to arrive in the city.

Nana Fujimoto

I have never been in New York City. Through this opportunity, I want to watch some NHL games and New York Yankees' games to watch Masahiro Tanaka play. I would appreciate it if you let me know your favorite places to visit.

MM: I'm a big hockey fan, so there is no more special place in the city to me than Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. The museums in the city are all amazing and are definitely worth a visit! I would also recommend checking out the New York City Public Library, it's an amazing place filled with a lot of history.

Nana Fujimoto

Thank you for telling me your recommendations! I'm looking forward to the opportunity to visit the museums and the library to get in touch with the history of the city.

MM: What was it like to be the goaltender in Japan's first-ever win over Sweden in the 2015 IIHF Women's World Championships?

Nana Fujimoto

It was a great pleasure. We had lost to Sweden in the Sochi Olympic Games, and it was a tight game this time, too. But we were able to win the game thanks to my teammates scoring goals.

MM: What was your reaction to being named the Best Goaltender of the 2015 IIHF Women's World Championships tournament?

Nana Fujimoto

I was both surprised and honored to hear that I had been named the Best Goaltender. I accepted the award on behalf of my whole team because to me that award was a recognition of what my team had accomplished. It wasn't just about me.

MM: What is your greatest strength as a goaltender? Does your height impact the way you play your position?

Nana Fujimoto

It is a sense of stability. I wouldn't say that my height doesn't impact the way I play. The short height could be a weak point, but I have created my own playing style just like every player has. I believe that I play in a way that turns my height into an advantage because of my understanding of my own physical abilities.

MM: Which goaltenders have inspired you? What goaltenders have influenced your play?

Nana Fujimoto

Shannon Szabados the goalie of the Canadian Women's National Team, Carey Price, and Yutaka Fukufuji who is playing for the Japanese Men's National Team.

MM: The Riveters have more international players on their roster than any other team in the NWHL, have you played against many of your Riveters teammates in international competition? Is it nice to have other players from outside of the United States and Canada on the team?

Nana Fujimoto

I have played against Luda (Lyudmila Belyakova), who plays for Team Russia, at the Sochi Olympics and at Universiade (the World University Games). I am pleased to belong to an international team and look forward to the opportunity to conversations about culture and the circumstances of hockey in their countries.

MM: The NWHL recently announced that the Riveters will be playing an exhibition series against Team Japan in December! Are you excited for the series? Do you know which team you will be playing for yet? Are your teammates from Team Japan excited?

Nana Fujimoto

Yes, I am very excited. I don't know which team I will be playing for yet, but I'm really happy that I can go back to Japan as a member of New York Riveters (I think it would be great if I could be in the net of both teams though...).

My teammates from Team Japan and our fans there are looking forward to this precious opportunity as well.

MM: You've chosen to wear #33 with the Riveters, does that number hold any significance to you?

Nana Fujimoto

#33 is the number that I have been wearing on my back since I started playing hockey at the age of 6. I have chosen #33 for every club team I've ever belonged to, though I have had several different numbers, currently #1, on team Japan.

For this reason, it's a very significant number to me.

MM: Is there anything you'd like to say to New York Riveters fans?

Nana Fujimoto

I am looking forward to seeing you guys at Aviator!!

MM: Thank you for your time, Nana!

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I'd like to extend a big thank you to Nana Fujimoto for taking the time to do this interview despite her incredibly busy schedule. I'd also like to thank coach Jonathan de Castro of the New York Riveters for taking the time to share his thoughts.

This interview would not have been possible without the help and translations of Nori Matsuura of the NWHL. Nori, a diehard Rangers' fan which is evident from his twitter account, was exceedingly patient and worked hard with me to ensure that we translated and presented Nana's answers as accurately as possible. We took great care to ensure that nothing was lost in translation.

Thank you for reading. Let's go Riveters!

#historybegins