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‘Since day one’: Boyd, ‘baka’ and banter help Akane Shiga feel at home in Ottawa

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For most people in Japan, calling someone ‘baka’ probably wouldn’t be the best move.

The word translates to being an idiot or a fool.

But for Akane Shiga of the PWHL Ottawa roster, she smiles almost every time she hears it. With the help of her translator, Madoka Suzuki, the league’s youngest and only Japanese player explained how her first language has been used to make her feel at home so far this season.

“Zoe [Boyd] called for a pass on the ice, calling her a ‘baka’ and she just immediately reacted, made the pass,” Suzuki explained, with Shiga giggling in the background. “Something unexpected, but I guess good chemistry.”

That call-out happened against Montreal last week, said Suzuki. Ottawa won that game, 4-2. Now, deep into the season, Ottawa is fourth in the league. If they stay there, they’ll make the playoffs.

The three teams above them are all tied for 30 points. Meanwhile, Boston and Ottawa are tied with 20, though Ottawa has the upper hand with more wins.

Shiga explained what it feels like to be gearing up for a potential playoff run.

“There’s not much league games and stuff going on in Japan, just tournaments, so she doesn’t have much experience with playoffs,” Suzuki translated for her, adding that she said it’s really motivating to be in a playoff spot.

About 9,400 kilometers. That’s how far away Shiga’s hometown, Hokkaido, is from Ottawa. Although Shiga said she’s felt welcome by the whole team, it especially comes down to one player in particular, Zoe Boyd.

“She’s been right by her side since day one,” said Suzuki. 

Shiga said her first impression of Boyd was that she was very chatty. Despite the language barrier, the two have made it work. Shiga said Boyd approached her right away.

“It’s tough to have detailed conversations and deep conversations,” she said, though the two still share a similar sense of humor and some inside jokes. 

“Constant joking, back and forth,” she said. “It’s just everyday.”

And as far as ‘baka’ goes within Ottawa’s roster, the new-found term of endearment is spreading, with more players adopting the word. Boyd’s certainly no stranger to hearing it as much as she says it apparently.

“They call each other ‘baka,’” Suzuki said with a smile. 

In fact, it’s not the only word Boyd knows. Coming off the ice after practice late February, she spoke to the media. When asked how she’d rate her Japanese, Boyd had high praise for herself. 

“For a beginner, I’d say a solid 9.7,” she said, adding that missing 0.3 comes from needing a little more fluency.

And to her credit, Boyd’s Japanese is strong, having spoken a bit to the media. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Boyd said she and Shiga have conversations in Japanese everyday. 

It might be a small step to have Shiga feel at home, but it’s apparent it goes a long way. In the meantime, Ottawa’s on the road. They’re off to Connecticut today to play at Total Mortgage Arena against New York, and then head home to vs. Toronto on home ice on Saturday.

Featured Image ©️ Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL)

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