April 01, 2009

RIP: The Seibu Prince Rabbits/Kokudo Bunnies

This is Joel Prpic. He played 18 games with the Boston Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche at the turn of the century.

Since 2003 he has been playing with the Seibu Prince Rabbits in Japan.

He will be looking for a new team next season, as the Rabbits became victims of the global economic downturn. After 37 seasons, they will not ice a team next year.

The team had been for sale but there were no takers as Japan has been particularly hard hit by the recession.

The Rabbits, owned by Prince Hotels, have been a powerhouse of hockey in Japan and in the Asian hockey league.

The team had also known over the years as the Kokudo Bunnies. Edmonton Oilers great Randy Gregg played with the Bunnies from 1980 through 1982 before joining the NHL.

The Rabbits was also Yutaka Fukufuji's team before he came to North America. In 2007 he became the first Japanese trained hockey player in NHL history.

Hiroyuki Miura was a long time player with the Rabbits. In 1992 he became the first Japanese born and trained player drafted by the NHL. Montreal selected him 260th overall, but his North American pro career consisted of just six games in the ECHL back in 1993-94.

Besides Gregg, several NHL players played in Japan. Darryl Sutter, Shjon Podein, Derek Plante and John Tucker all played in the various Japanese/Asia leagues over the years.

The Soviets used to release their veteran stars to coach in Japan, including Helmut Balderis, Viktor Kuzkin, Viacheslav Starshinov and Vladimir Shadrin.

For more history of hockey in Japan, click here.

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