Stopping shots at his home part of game for Miyamoto

October 06, 1994|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun Staff Writer

As a Japanese-American growing up in Columbia, Jon Miyamoto was influenced by a variety of sports. There was football, lacrosse, soccer -- all big-time hobbies in Columbia.

He chose ice hockey. Ice hockey.

Miyamoto, who did not take up skating until he was 13, is defying the odds as he begins his fourth year as a goaltender for the University of Vermont ice hockey team.

First, Asian-Americans are not exactly known for having a knack with a puck. Second, Columbia is not exactly a hotbed for hockey prospects.

Miyamoto, whose father is a Hawaiian-born Japanese-American and whose mother is from Texas, said he has yet to see another Asian-American on an opposing team.

"I haven't seen anybody in the college ranks with an Asian name," said Miyamoto, 21. "I think I'm the only Asian in the [Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference]."

Of the approximately 700 players in the National Hockey League, Jim Paek, a Korean-American defenseman for the Ottawa Senators, is the only player of Asian descent. Richard Park, 18, a Korean-American center from California, was selected 50th overall in the second round of the NHL draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, but has yet to play.

In college hockey, there are a handful of Asian-American players. But Miyamoto said he gets more jokes about his home state than about his ethnicity.

"When they announce my name over the loudspeaker and say I'm from Maryland," Miyamoto said, "People say, 'What? This guy is from where?' "

Miyamoto did not set skate on ice until he was 10, when a friend had a birthday party at the Columbia Ice Rink. Three years later, Miyamoto began to take up skating and hockey.

"I was pretty late," he said. "Most kids usually start walking and skating at the same time."

But Miyamoto had little trouble picking up the mechanics of skating.

"It [hockey] was a much faster game than the other sports," he said. "[Skating] was totally different from the running. It was a change I was into, and I liked the speed aspect. . . . It definitely clicked with me."

Miyamoto participated in local ice hockey leagues and played center. When he was 14, the starting goalie for his pee-wee team didn't show up for a game. "I ended up playing in the net and did better than him," Miyamoto said. "I don't know what happened to him, but I owe it all to him."

So Miyamoto switched from shooting the puck to stopping it.

"You're either the hero or the goat," he said of playing goalie. "There's no in between.

"You have this puck coming at you at, like, 100 miles an hour, and it's really a rush," he said. "You control the game. You control your team's destiny. . . . There's no feeling like being in a 3-3 tie, sudden-death overtime. It's great."

After his freshman year at Atholton High School in Columbia, Miyamoto went to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he was chosen as an alternate for the national 16-year-old team. Miyamoto then attended Tabor Academy in Marion, Mass., where he played hockey full time. During his senior year, Tabor's team won the New England Ice Hockey Championship -- which Miyamoto calls "probably one of the highlights of my career."

Recruited by Vermont, Miyamoto was in line to start at goalkeeper last season -- until freshman Tim Thomas, a member of the national junior team, won the No. 1 spot.

"I was kind of upset," Miyamoto said. "But you're on a team, and the object of a team is to win. As much as I was upset, I did it for the team. Tim did a good job."

The Catamounts went 15-12-6, and Thomas started all 33 games. Miyamoto played in four games, but gave up nine goals on 46 shots and had a 7.71 goals-against average.

"Right now, Jon's challenging for the top spot," Vermont coach Mike Gilligan said.

Gilligan disputes any notion that Miyamoto's ethnic and geographical background is a disadvantage.

"I'd say years ago that would be true, but now there's so much national exposure to the game," Gilligan said. "There are kids from California and Georgia who can play. Maryland is not a state to be overlooked."

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