Fast Forward

Kariya is one of the smallest players in the NHL, but his determination makes him as big as some of the giants in hockey today.
Story Ken Jones

Skates chop the ice, sending chunks into the air. Boards crunch and flex from the weight of bodies colliding. The air becomes electric as the Vancouver Canucks race into their opponent’s end. The crowd senses the possibility of a goal, and roars when the puck flies across the goal line, into the net. General Motors Place explodes with cheering.

A Young Canadian’s Dream Come True

Imagine the feeling after scoring a goal in the National Hockey League. It is a dream for youth all over Canada, to hear their name over the roars, to look up at the giant video screen and watch the replay of the goal they just scored. One Canuck grew up in Vancouver cheering the team he now plays for. Now his name is announced over the sound system when he scores; but Steve Kariya is finding out how difficult it is to compete full-time in the NHL.

The Canucks signed Kariya in April of 1999. At five foot seven, he is one of the smallest players in the NHL, but his determination makes him as big as some of the giants in hockey today. To date, the speedy right winger has had a tough time establishing himself in the NHL. This year, Kariya has played the majority of the season for the Canucks’ minor league team, the Kansas City Blades of the International Hockey League. The IHL is a league where Kariya will gain more experience playing against larger, stronger, professional players. He has already made the most of his time in Kansas City, as he is one of the top three scorers on the team.

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“I’m an easy guy to send down because they don’t have to put me on waivers. I still have an entry-level contract,” says Kariya. “To stay with the Canucks, I have to be consistent.” Kariya’s contract protects him from being claimed by other teams. Players with higher-level contracts are sometimes sent to the minors, but the team must first waive the player’s contract. When they do this they risk the possibility of losing their players to other teams. Any team can sign someone on waivers. This protects the rights of veteran players, and lets the hockey clubs explore their young talent.

Hard Work And Patience Pays Off

With the Canucks, Kariya has spent some of his time watching games from the press box, instead of being on the ice. “I understand my situation,” he explains. “My role is different each game. I do whatever the coaching staff asks me to do.” Keeping a positive attitude and working hard is his only option. Kariya is often the last player off the ice after practice. “Right now I’m working on shooting more. My goal is to be a threat, to make an impact.”

Kariya made an impact as a young hockey player. With the skills he developed in North Vancouver’s minor hockey, Kariya played one year in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League with the Nanaimo Clippers. That year he was selected to the BCJHL all-star team, and was also named as Nanaimo’s most valuable player.

Right now I’m working on shooting more. My goal is to be a threat, to make an impact.

After his year in Nanaimo, Kariya chose to go to the University of Maine and get an education. This is the same path taken by his oldest brother, hockey superstar Paul Kariya. Steve Kariya was the captain of the Black Bears for two of the three years he was there. In his last year, the team captured a national title and Steve was nominated as the best collegiate player in the US. In his last two years, he achieved all-American academic honours while accomplishing a degree in finance. Kariya believes that getting an education is a good choice for players coming out of junior hockey. He says that, while in college, “You don’t play as many games, so you don’t get exhausted, and you have more time to practice and work on your game.”

Kariya credits several people for the strong influence they have had on him. In particular, he mentions three coaches who helped him reach the NHL: Gary Davidson from Nanaimo, and Sean Walsh and Grant Stanbrook from the University of Maine. He also credits his brother Paul. “He gives me advice when I need it. He’s helped me a lot.”

A Talented Family

Kariya comes from a talented family. His mother and father still live in North Vancouver, in the house where Kariya was raised. Tetsuhiko Kariya, his father, is a math teacher at Argyle Secondary. Kariya’s mother, Sharon, is a retired elementary school teacher. Kariya’s grandmother and grandfather, Fumiko and Isamu, were both born in Steveston, British Columbia. Ironically, each moved at a young age to Mio, a small town in Japan. There they met and married, eventually moving back to Vancouver.

All five children in the Kariya family are athletically inclined. Kariya was the second to reach the NHL. His older brother Paul plays for the Mighty Ducks in Anaheim. Paul has been selected as an all-star four times and has won the prestigious Lady Byng Trophy for most valuable player two times in his career.

Martin is the youngest of the men in the Kariya family. He too has dreams of reaching the “big show.” He is following the path of his two older brothers, by playing hockey at the University of Maine. This year is Martin’s draft year. Kariya figures that his brother has a good chance of being picked by an NHL club.

The youngest in the family is Kariya’s sister Noriko. She is also a skilled hockey player, but the hockey she plays is on a field. In keeping with the family trend, Noriko also attends the University of Maine. She is in her fourth year on a field hockey scholarship.

Kariya’s oldest sibling is his sister Michiko. She is the media contact for her family. “Tenacious” is the way Michiko describes her brother. “I’ve always been impressed with the way Steve deals with adversity. No matter how many people said he was too small to play hockey, Steve has continuously blocked them out, worked hard and achieved his goals.”

Kariya is still working hard and still reaching new goals. He is an exciting player, and if he receives more NHL ice time from his coaches, he will add a spark to the Canucks. Steve Kariya is a good example for any young hockey player. He shows that it is possible, through hard work and determination, to achieve your goals and dreams.