Former Chatham-Kent Athlete Herb Wakabayashi Makes The ECAC Top-50 Players Of All Time

Herb Wakabayashi

Herb Wakabayashi

Chatham-Kent Athletes both past and present continue to make their mark on the sports landscape of the world.

The ECAC (Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference) is celebrating its 50-year anniversary this season and has named a Top 50 Players of All Time List.

Former Chatham resident and Chatham Junior Maroon Herb Wakabayashi was chosen for the honor with other such notables as Ken Dryden, Joe Niewendyk, Ron Wilson and Martin St. Louis. I had the pleasure to speak with the former All American hockey player via skype this week about the prestigious honor and about his career journey from Chatham, to Boston University and then on to his playing days in Japan.

“I was actually really surprised that I was named, I didn’t really know it was the 50th year, or that they were picking the list until I got an email from a colleague saying that he was sending me the award. I also didn’t realize there was such company on the list so it is a huge honor for me for sure.”

Wakabayashi played and starred in collegiate hockey with Boston University from 1966 to 1969 and has some awesome and vivid memories about his recruitment and his time at BU.

“I really didn’t want to go at all. I told my mom I don’t really want to do school anymore, all that work,” he chuckled. “But luckily my mom said oh no you have to go, but it took some effort to convince me it was for me. Then I went to London with Eddie Wright, Mickey Gray and Dickie Smith so it was pretty much a done deal after that.”

He then broke out some cool on ice memories from his time competing in the NCAA.

“I remember like it was yesterday we were in the game to get to the national final and we were playing against Ken Dryden and Cornell. We were down 2-1 with close to five minutes left to go and I got a chance right out in front to tie it with what I saw was a wide open net. So I’m like oh this is gravy and I shoot. Well wouldn’t you know it, but Dryden reached across and stretched out and got it with his glove. I couldn’t believe it.”

If you are gonna get stoned late in a game to tie it it may as well be a future NHL Hall-Of-Famer.

Herb also shared another story about fellow lister Tim Sheehy, with a nice look inside American collegiate hockey at the time.

“I remember Tim Sheehy very well as well because he was at Boston College and I was at Boston U. There was this huge rivalry obviously because of location but also because BC was all American and Tim Sheehy was American and he was their big gun. At BU we had Eddie Wright, Mickey Gray and myself from Chatham and we were all Canadian. I was our leading scorer so Tim and I had some really tough battles.”

After his college career was finished he took an opportunity to go over and play hockey in Japan where he excelled on the ice while he slowly adjusted to the Japanese methods of training and the culture away from the rink.

“They were doing three hours on the ice in the morning and three hours on the ice in the afternoon. I would tell them , you know guys you really don’t have to do this to be successful but they always said, No Herb, if we don’t do this we don’t feel right and prepared for the game. There is a saying, when in Japan do as the Japanese and so that’s what I did for a good part of ten years. But once they saw the success that Mel and I had then they started to open uo and listen to us and by the time I was coaching I had them down to two hours on the ice in the morning and then two hours of dry training in the afternoon so I’m pretty proud that I was able to influence things a lilttle bit but it was really Father David Bauer who was the biggest positive influence at the time.”

His game was tops in the Japanese league as he was the top scorer, as well as the best two way player for many years during the 1970’s, and represented Japan on the world stage during that time. Then came the pinnacle.

“I would have to say being the flag-bearer for Japan in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid is definitely tops for sure. There is a funny story there though. “I was standing in the entrance to the stadium holding the flag and the Canadian Mens Ice Hockey team were right there while I was waiting to go in. I knew some of the guys on the team so they see me there and they start yelling at me, “Fall Herb Fall!” so I tightened up even more. I wasn’t too worried until they said that then I started thinking maybe I am gonna fall.” he laughed.

He certainly didn’t fall and I remember as a 7-year old that it brought great pride to the Wakabayashi family in Chatham Kent.

Herb now lives most of the time in Japan, some of the time in Vancouver and is heavily involved in marketing Miura Golf in Japan and North America. He has been all over the world with his skates and his rolodex carries the likes of Pat Quinn, Mark Messier, David E Kelley and former Anaheim Duck general manager Jack Ferrera. No matter what, he certainly does not forget the roots that hecame from.

“I just want to say thank you to the community of Chatham Kent, all the people there who supported and helped me through the years because without that start I would not have been able to achieve things like being on a list like this.”

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    Gerry Leschyshyn 12 years

    I was fortunate to play for Providence from 1968-1972. I can vouch that Herb was a super star on the ice but it was his off ice demeanour that ranked him as one of the greatest players to come out of the Chatham-Kent system . I was a new fish ,in a large pond , but Herb Wakabayashi would wait for the Providence team bus after every game and congratulate me on my game effort and ask if there was any type of help he could offer me . It didn’t matter the subject, or situation , Herb was always willing to help another Chathamite even though he was on an opposing team . This was truly the type of behaviour that everyone should try to emulate. It was this Walkabayashi character that , in my opinion , made them the first family of sport in Chatham-Kent. Thanks for the wonderful story. It is an award that Herb truly deserves. …. Gerry Leschyshyn

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    Thx for sharing that great comment. Nice to hear from one of the best to come out of Chatham. Best coach of all time too cheers