It was a different celebration from what Marc Cavosie was used to seeing after a hockey championship.
The Cohoes native watched his Oji Eagles teammates after they dispatched the Nikko IceBucks in overtime in Nikko, a city north of Tokyo, to win the Asia League Ice Hockey championship. The players huddled up to toss the owner of the Oji Paper Company in the air, he in a suit and they still wearing their skates. Some of the company’s staff formed their own huddle, tossing the team’s captain in the air.
The shared exuberance and even a few happy tears showed Cavosie that, even though the championship trophy doesn’t carry Lord Stanley’s name, it is just as prestigious an award and as moving a victory to these players, coaches and executives.
“It set in later, how special it was to them,” he said after returning to the Capital Region to visit family and friends. “That made me happy I was able to contribute.”
Cavosie assisted on the game-winner, scored by Kuji Shuhei. He also had the second assist on Kuji’s game-opening goal, and he scored a goal in the second period of the 4-3 win on March 24.
In seven playoff games (the ALIH plays two best-of-five series), Cavosie had four goals and eight assists. He was named the playoff MVP, the ALIH version of the Conn Smythe Trophy.
“I was honored, because I thought they would have just given it to a Japanese player,” he said. “So I felt they must have really appreciated the way I played.”
Cavosie, who played for Albany Academy and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, came to the Oji Eagles, based in Tomakomai, Japan, on the northern island of Hokkaido, looking for a new experience, and he got one, beginning with a wake-up call at a hotel breakfast buffet.
“Raw eggs, rice, some kind of fish, and I call it stinky beans — it’s beans, but it smells so bad,” Cavosie said. “And sushi. They’ll have sushi out for every meal, pretty much, and it’s unbelieveable. I can’t eat it back here anymore.”
He hadn’t packed for cold weather, expecting something akin to the rainy American Northwest. Instead, he got snow.
Sometimes so high, it came up to the windows of the team bus.
But he adjusted. Learned a few words — basically enough to say “please,” “thank you” and “no problem” — but still relies heavily on the team’s interpreter, Shioya Takahisa.
He still has a little trouble with his teammates’ names, though, he said he’s bad enough at remembering American names. But in the rink, the language barrier almost disappears.
“When it comes to hockey, you can draw on the board and you can get by,” he said. “If I go out to a bar with them, I can’t talk to them. But on the bench, it’s a lot easier.”
The ice sheets varied in size from rink to rink. The Eagles’ home ice is a little larger than NHL standards. Some of the older barns were smaller.
He also adjusted on the fly to his new nickname, “Cabo,” his teammates’ pronounciation of his old moniker, “Cavo.”
Cavosie was asked, when he arrived in Japan, to try to help the younger players develop. However, if he told a player something contrary to what a coach said, the player stuck with the coach’s teachings.
Such is the culture. People are taught to respect and obey their elders.
The coaches, though, eventually told the players they could listen to Cavosie and even put him in control of his own five-man unit by the end of the season.
That unit accounted for at least 80 percent of the team’s playoff goals, he said.
The team was adjusting to him just as he was adjusting to Japan.
He was willing to step back and create space for some of the young Japanese players to excel, and the resulting depth was something that set the Eagles above the rest of the league.
Some teams had a full line of imported players that Cavosie said would play every other shift. The Eagles rolled four lines and finished atop the standings, winning 25 of their 36 regular-season games, 21 of those in regulation. They outscored their opponents, 141-82.
Cavosie had 11 goals and 20 assists in the regular season. Former Albany Devil Michael Swift led the league for the South Korean team High1 with 44 goals and 46 assists, but High1 missed the playoffs.
The Oji Eagles, Cavosie said, are the New York Yankees of the AHIL. However, they had not won the championship since 2008, which he said had frustrated the organization. To win again, and to do so with good contributions from Japanese players and not just the imports, meant everything.
“They want to be a Japanese team,” Cavosie said. “If they could win without me and the other imports, we wouldn’t be there. But the fact that we could, at times, take the back seat, not complain, was probably the most important reason they asked me back. That’s more important to them than me going out and scoring 50 goals.”
The Eagles have some of the best Japanese players in the league, Cavosie said, and a number of the league’s players have great hands and are good enough to play in the AHL. Although they may not have as strong a hockey sense, their work ethic carries them a long way.
“As a culture, though, they work harder than any culture I’ve ever seen, on and off the ice,” he said. “They’re tenacious and they never give up.”
Cavosie has agreed to another contract with the Eagles.
“I’m using hockey at this point for, one, to make a little money to put away for the next part of my life, but also, I want to see the world,” he said. “I’m going to have to work again, and I don’t know that I’m going to be able to travel like I’m allowed to now. So it’s a great opportunity for me to take advantage of that, seeing more of the world than most Americans probably get to see.”