Yuki Miura’s journey from Japan to the Iowa Heartlanders

The 25-year-old forward born in Tokyo wants to be the leader of Japanese ice hockey, where it is a minor sport.


Gabby Drees

Iowa Heartlander forward Yuki Miura gives fans high-fives while leaving a hockey game between the Iowa Heartlanders and the Kansas City Mavericks at the Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. Miura earned two assists. The Iowa Heartlanders beat the Kansas City Mavericks 4-1.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

When Yuki Miura glides on the ice, clad in a black sweater with a white-tailed buck on the front, he is representing more than the Iowa Heartlanders. 

As he keeps track of the puck that shifts at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour, the 25-year-old forward knows those residing under the Japanese flag — officially named the Nisshōki — are looking up to him over 6,000 miles away from his new home at Xtream Arena in Coralville. 

Ice hockey is a minor sport in Miura’s home country of Japan, unlike baseball, sumo wrestling, and soccer. So much that Tokyo — Japan’s largest city and capital — doesn’t host a professional club.

Miura started playing hockey because of his father, Takayuki Miura, who was a defenseman for Japan in the 1998 Winter Olympics. 

“I want to be the guy that leads Japanese ice hockey,” Yuki Miura said, who has almost 7,500 Twitter followers. “What I’m doing is posting on social media, like how to learn hockey skills, how to pass, how to shoot like this. So, I think it helps me. I made 40 or 50 videos and posted it on my YouTube, Twitter, sometimes Instagram. I feel like it’s my responsibility because I’m playing at that level.” 

Miura and Yushiroh Hirano of the Cincinnati Cyclones are the only two Japanese-born players on current ECHL rosters. Since its founding in 1917, Yutaka Fukufuji has been the only Japanese athlete to compete in the NHL, accomplishing that feat as a goaltender during the 2006-07 season with the Los Angeles Kings. 

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Miura got his first taste of American ice hockey in Waterloo, Iowa. The two-way forward left Japan for the Czech Republic to gain experience at a higher level and was connected to the Waterloo Black Hawks of the U.S. Hockey League — the top junior league in the U.S. — in 2016.

Miura spoke no English when he arrived in the Hawkeye State, but with assistance from the Black Hawks and their fans, it took around two years before he became fluent in the language.

“It was fun, actually,” Miura said of his career in Waterloo. “But at the same time, I had a little hard time to adjust from European hockey to U.S. hockey. In the U.S., you have smaller rinks and harder hockey, so it took a little while to adjust to American hockey. But at the same time, it was a great time for me to prepare for the next steps for DI hockey, so it was a great time.”

Along with a new language, Miura was introduced to whole new slate of dishes. In his time in the U.S., he’s discovered burgers and pizza as his favorite American staples, while also enjoying sushi that includes more than the rice and fish offered in Japan.

Lake Superior State University was Miura’s next calling. Situated in the upper peninsula of Michigan, Miura recognized the cold environment as the place to improve his skills on the ice. The university’s only Division I program is men’s ice hockey.

After totaling 29 points as a Laker in four seasons, the 5-foot-11 skater was ready for a professional opportunity — progressing toward his goal of making the NHL. 

Miura’s agent got in contact with Heartlanders President and CEO Brian McKenna, and he signed a professional try-out contract with the organization before training camp. 

Heartlanders head coach Gerry Fleming and his staff liked what they saw. So, they wanted to sign Miura to the active roster before the regular season. 

But Miura needed a visa to compete in the regular season, so he flew back to Japan. Under regular circumstances, he could’ve gone to Canada or Mexico to obtain a visa, but COVID-19 prevented that from happening. 

On top of traveling back to his home country, Miura needed to wait 14 days after arriving before he could enter the U.S. Embassy. With support from the Heartlanders staff, Miura’s immigration was approved, and he was added to the active roster Nov. 19 upon his return to the U.S. 

Miura skated in the rink almost every day while waiting for his visa. Now, six games into his career with the Heartlanders, Miura has tallied three goals and three assists.

“He’s played inspirational hockey,” Fleming said. “He plays hard, he plays with purpose, he plays with pace, he plays with all the things you want a good player to play with, and he does that well and he plays inspirational for the other guys.” 

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