Photo courtesy Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds
Sometimes it takes being a younger brother to teach you to play with a chip on your shoulder. The Spokane Chiefs’ Kailer Yamamoto plays with that edge and he says it comes from playing with his older brother Keanu for years. His style of play can be traced back to chasing down the older Yamamoto.
“I played growing up with my brother a couple of years above and I’ve always wanted to. Always tried to catch up to him and he’s always picked on me a bit growing up so I kind of learned it from him. I’ve always tried to play with a competitive edge and I feel like being competitive can take over skill-set. I try to be more competitive than the other guy.”
That time is nearing an end as the older Yamamoto brother is an overage and playing out the last few games for the Chiefs who have been eliminated from playoff contention.
“It’s probably been the best time of my life playing hockey. I’ve cherished it ever since I played with him. Playing with him at such a high level it’s been unbelievable. I’m having a hard time with his last season-not making the playoffs. It’s going to be pretty sad without him here next year.”
Despite not having someone who shares the same family on the team, the young Chief looks primed for a big step forward in the 2017-18 season.
“It’s definitely looking up for us right now. Lot of good young guys coming up. Once they get a little more confidence in the league and start finding the rhythm we are going to be a good team.”
It’s fairly obvious Kailer will have to lead the way for the Chiefs to take that step forward next season.
“Every game I want to be a leader on and off the ice so I try to put that on myself. It’s been a tough year this year but hopefully I’m looking to lead the boys to a better start this coming year.”
If next year builds on this season as much as this year built on last, the Chiefs are in good hands. Kailer has 38 goals and 48 assists for 86 points a year after having 19 goals and 52 assists for 71 points. Doubling his goal output was a goal for him going into this season.
“The mark I wanted to hit for goals was 35 and now it’s 40. Over the off-season I wanted to work on my shot and it’s been helping me out a lot. My shot was pretty weak last year and so I switched to a lower flex stick. I also worked hard on getting a quicker release and more accurate shot.”
Kailer has to be excited that the entire Chiefs’ top line could very well be returning, unless 1997-born and Carolina Hurricanes’ draft pick Hudson Elynuik signs a pro-deal in the off-season. Kailer and Elymuik, along with Jaret Anderson-Dolan have provided a ton of offence for the Chiefs.
“The biggest thing was chemistry. Once we found chemistry, I think we all pretty much play the same game. We all move the puck pretty quick and get into tight corners and make plays. I think I learned from both of them how to be a leader and a better person. It’s been fun playing with them.”
The competitive side to him has relished going against lines like that of Seattle’s Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar and picking up little tips to add to his own game.
“Just taking little things out of their game. Barzal’s really good at pretty much everything he does from faceoffs to going in on the rush and finding that back guy and Kolesar and Gropp finding the back of the net. Just watching them and picking up little things.”
As far as his strengths, the most obvious one that jumps out is his strong skating. This is something he has been working hard at for most of his life.
“I’ve been power skating for awhile with her – she used to be the power skating coach here but she retired . She’s a professional figure skater Berkley Villard. I’ve been skating with her two times a week for the past 9-10 years.”
Kailer is well aware of the big knock on him going into the draft, that being his five-foot-nine, 160 pound frame.
“I want to be the best player on the ice every game and bring it every game. In the off-season I need to gain some weight. Get in the weight room and gain some weight; start working out.”
If the younger Yamamoto takes the same edge he took to the ice this year, to the gym, there’s little doubt he will have to up his goal for weight gain, like he had to for his goal total.