For the first time ever, the Fujimoto sisters will play on the same professional team with one another. Word was released on Jul. 8, 2019 that both 28-year-old defender Nachi and her older sister Nana, a 30-year-old goaltender, will both be playing for Färjestad BK in Sweden’s second-tier league – Division 1 – for the 2019-20 season.
While Nachi played with Färjestad this past season, this will be Nana’s first with the team, and her first in Sweden as well.
Both Fujimoto sisters are familiar to North American fans. Nachi played in the CWHL for the Boston Blades and Les Canadiennes de Montréal, while Nana was an inaugural member of the NWHL’s Metropolitan Riveters. Additionally, the two sisters have been teammates on the Japanese Women’s National Team at the IIHF Women’s World Championships.
“Actually,” Nachi Fujimoto told THW, “I was talking to the GM about next season after the end of last season (2018-19). At that time, I had told him that my sister is interested in playing for FBK. And then, I returned to Japan and I connected her with him. Finally, she has decided to play for FBK herself… She was saying that the hockey environment looked like it was good for me, and the contract condition is good too. So as a result, we will play together for FBK!”
Nachi spoke at length with THW shortly after the signings were announced. She shared on what it will be like playing with her sister again, and what expectations she has for the 2019-20 season.
Nachi’s Solid First Season With FBK
A main reason in Fujimoto’s decision to return to FBK was the great amount of success she had this past season with the club. She was nearly a point-per-game player with her five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 15 games. Those numbers led all FBK defenders in scoring, and placed her fourth overall among all skaters on the roster.
Not surprisingly, Fujimoto was in turn named FBK’s Player of the Year. When it came to the club’s qualification games for SDHL promotion, she led her team in scoring with a pair of goals and an assist in three games. Unfortunately though, Skellefteå AIK dispelled FBK two games to one.
That being said, the qualification loss only further intensified Fujimoto’s commitment to reach the SDHL in 2020. She feels that she has unfinished business to attend to.
“(I am) most excited that I will play with (Nana) for FBK,” Fujimoto said about her look towards the season ahead. “And of course I’m excited to play with nice girls again. In my case, I had a great time with them but we couldn’t reach the SDHL. So I thought I want to move to the SDHL with them.”
The Fujimotos’ Father Ensured That They Were Taught Well
The first and only time that the Fujimoto sisters played together internationally was at the 2008 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Harbin, China. They were teenagers at the time, but it was something they had worked their whole lives for.
Growing up and learning the game in Japan, hockey has always been a part of their lives.
“We started to play by the influence of our dad,” Fujimoto explained. “Basically, we learned in our local junior team and our local women’s club team. But especially my sister had learned how to play goalie from our dad. He had played goalie since he was adult, and he studied how to play goalie when Nana started playing goalie – she was 10 years old. He taught her for a long time, until she began representing Japan.”
Even though their father had an affinity for the goaltending position, he still ensured that Nachi received proper tutelage on defense.
“In my case,” Fujimoto recalled, “my dad hired a professional coach who was Japanese, and who got a coaching license from Canada for me. He gave me private lessons for a long time because (my dad) can teach only goalkeeper,” she laughed. “But totally – I appreciate his help and efforts.”
Putting in the Hard Work
Speaking of effort, Fujimoto is no stranger to putting in plenty of hard work herself. When you speak with her, it is easy to get a sense of her determination. It permeates through her words when discussing FBK’s upcoming season.
Fujimoto is putting in a ton of effort during the 2019 offseason, and her sister Nana is too.
“Actually, I have been training both on and off-ice since April,” said Fujimoto. “I’ve been joining the on-ice practices with a men’s team from the local university, and of course, my Japanese club team too, Vortex Sapporo. Off-ice training is done by myself or sometimes I’m doing it with a hockey friend who played in the ECHL last season.”
In addition to being an original NWHLer and an All-Star for that league, goaltender Nana is arguably the face of Japanese hockey. Four times she has represented her country in the Top Division of the Women’s World Championships. Twice Nana has been an Olympian – at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, and most recently in 2018 at PyeongChang.
“Nana has also joined the same practices from the middle of June,” Nachi shared. “Off-ice training she is doing with her personal trainer or by herself.
“I definitely can say that we are ready for the opener game,” she said confidently.
“We Are Ready for the Opener”
FBK looks to be a competitive team this season no matter what. Top scorer Josefin Lindström is back again, as are some of the other reliable players from 2018-19 like Julia Pettersson, Emma Thomann, and Julia Martinsson.
Nana Fujimoto will not be the team’s only quality goalie either. The duo of Lina Eriksson and Linda Glädt are still in the fold as well.
That being said, Nachi knows her responsibilities regardless, but would be lying if she said having her sister in the crease will not be some additional reassurance.
“I don’t care that the goalie is Nana or not – I don’t change my play, because it’s clear what I should do”, Fujimoto stated. “But if (Nana) is behind me, I can play with confidence. So I think I will be able to play well on both offense and defense because she is one of greatest goalies, and I trust her. I believe that she can stop all of the shots.”
A confidence that gives her the will to take more chances should mean Nachi Fujimoto’s offensive numbers go up even more. Having scored a lone goal and a single assist during her 39 career CWHL games, FBK is going to count on her to bring points from the back end. It would not be surprising if Fujimoto raised her numbers another 5 or 6 points (if not more) this time around and be better than a point-per-game blueliner.
Numbers are secondary though to what she wants to accomplish with her teammates. That does not mean though that she does not realize that her scoring can be the difference between winning and losing for Färjestad.
“First of all,” Fujimoto said firmly, “I will do everything with my full power to contribute and reach the SDHL. Second, I will do better stats than last season. And finally, I want to enjoy hockey with my sister”.
General Manager of the Buffalo Beauts (NWHL). Hockey history writer “The Hockey Writers”. Credentialed media for the NHL Combine and 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY, USA. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY. Lifelong hockey fan for over 40 years. Proponent of the women’s game.