Inside the 2,700-seat, Winter Stadium in Tychy, Poland, Madoka Suzuki is living a dream. The Carleton Ravens forward had just played his second game at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship IB, which ended in a wild 7-5 victory.
Standing in a hallway outside the dressing room, Suzuki is giving an interview talking about the intricacies of his stick. He smiles as he talks about the extremely small tape job he uses at the top of his stick while discussing his curve and the unique grip he uses. The interview is part of a series introducing fans to the members of the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation team.
On Sunday, Suzuki's team would lose a 2-0 heartbreaker to Poland, ending the team's bid at promotion and keeping them still two steps below Canada and other international hockey powers.
Back in the moment, Suzuki is all smiles back at the rink, only 6 months ago he wasn't sure when he'd skate again. An inconspicuous play along the boards at the Carleton Ice House saw Suzuki suffer a deep laceration that nearly ended his season only games after it began.
Having missed most of his 2020-21 season with a broken leg, Suzuki was now facing another shortened season in the first month of his time at Carleton. Thanks in part to an extended break, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a strong rehabilitation program Suzuki was fortunate to return in time for the end of the season joining the Ravens for their final few games.
Now, just finding his stride again, the 22-year-old is proud to be representing his country on the international scene. "For me, being able to come to Canada to pursue hockey has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me," he said from Tychy.
"I’ve made countless memories and met some of the best people through this sport. On top of all it’s given me this opportunity to represent my country which is very special."
Suzuki's hockey career has taken the long road to the national team. Having played his minor hockey in Eastern Ontario, Suzuki played Junior A hockey in Coburg, Wellington and Kemptville before playing one season in the NCAA.
When he took the ice with the Carleton Ravens for the first game of his OUA career in November his approach was like any other night, he prepared to play the role his coaches asked, to be a good teammate and to help his team win. Not only was Suzuki making his season debut, but he was also making history. Suzuki is the first Japanese-born player to dress for the men's hockey program in the team's modern era.
Making history has become familiar for Suzuki, he spent the 2020-2021 season as a member of the Long Island Land Sharks of the NCAA. Playing for a brand new program in the 61-team league, Suzuki was one of only a few active Japanese-born players.
As the puck dropped on the 2021 season, only a small number of Japanese-born players had ever played in a Canadian interuniversity hockey game. While six Japanese-born players suited up for the UBC Thunderbirds from the '60s through the '80s, there are few records of many others playing in the 30 years since. Having few fellow Japanese-born players come before him is a fact that is not lost on Suzuki. "I think my family is a little more excited than I am," he said on the morning of the first game. "I don't think about it too much, it's something that just happened to be, but it's not something I worry about."
While he admits making history is not something he worries about, Suzuki recognizes that he can help change the landscape of hockey.
"Hockey has its stereotypes but at the end of the day if you love the sport it’ll love you back."
Suzuki's message resonates whether you're new to hockey or trying to make your mark in any avenue.
"If you’re someone like me and don’t exactly fit in the category but have some interest, I encourage you to give it a shot! Doesn’t have to be hockey but I think it’s important to try different things and explore what’s out there."
While he understands that he has the potential to influence others around him, by giving them someone to look up to, the relatively young Suzuki is still living his childhood dreams playing alongside those who blazed a trail before him. Across the room sits teammate, and former Los Angeles Kings goaltender, Yukata Fukufuji. In 2007, Fukufuji made history as the first Japanese player to play in the NHL. Only the second-ever Japanese citizen drafted into the league, and first goalie, Fukufuji's success has given him legendary status among youngsters like Suzuki.
Throughout the process, Suzuki admits the game has shaped who he is today. "Hockey’s a big part of who I am now and I wouldn’t change a thing even if I could go back in time." As he and the rest of the Japanese team battle it out in Poland, Suzuki is thankful to the communities that have helped him get to where he is today.
"It definitely meant a lot," said Suzuki, adding "After going through an injury, transfer and clearing eligibility at the last minute all within a year. I couldn't have done it without everyone who supported the process. I'm very thankful for them as well."