St. Cloud, MN – For a seventeen year-old, Zachary Okabe has seen a lot of the world. Born in Japan and raised for a portion of his life in Australia he has dual citizenship in Australia and Japan. Okabe moved to the USA for a bit, played hockey on Vancouver Island and then moved to Okotoks, Alberta (just south of Calgary) to skate for the Grand Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL). Okabe’s next move will be to St. Cloud, Minnesota as the forward announced his commitment to the Huskies via Twitter on August 9. Okabe announced “Proud and honoured to announce my commitment to play college hockey at St. Cloud State University . I would like to thank my family, teammates, coaches, and friends that helped me along this journey.”
Okabe’s hockey started in New South Wales, Australia for the Penrith Phantoms, a hockey program started by his parents Bob and Maree Okabe. His father, by the way, has a hockey background himself playing some club hockey for SCSU in the 90’s. Moving to Springbank, Alberta, Okabe played two seasons of hockey for the Edge School AAA Bantams in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and then one season on Vancouver Island for the Shawinigan Lake Midget Preps in 2016-17 compiling 27 points in 30 regular season contests. It was then off to Okotoks to hone his skills with the Grand Prairie Storm of the AJHL. Already being noticed by the Western Hockey League and NCAA coaches, Okabe earned the distinction of being the first Australian drafted by the Western Hockey League in March of 2016. He also made an early commitment to Hockey East’s University of Vermont prior to the start of his rookie season for the Grand Prairie Storm.
An immediate impact player for the Storm, the 5’9″ 160 pound highly skilled Okabe had 22 goals and 35 assists for 57 points in 58 games. This also included 13 multi-point games. His rookie success earned him the Dick White Trophy as Rookie of the Year in the AJHL and being named to the leagues All-Rookie team. Additionally, he was a finalist for the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) Rookie of the Year, an award that encompasses all of the Canadian Junior A hockey leagues.
In a previous interview, Grand Prairie head coach Matt Keiller noted “We knew Zachary was a very special player the first time we saw him skate. He makes plays at high speed and he’s exciting to watch. He’s one of those players that puts fans on the edge of their seat when he has the puck.” In an August 2017 interview, Okabe told the Burlington Free Press “I like to make plays and put the puck in the net. I definitely have to get a lot stronger to compete with players much older than me in college. I can battle well and put up a fight but I don’t want to get tossed around and I’ll have to make decisions much faster.”
Changes in the coaching staff at UVM had Okabe re-evaluating his options and he had no less than 16 NCAA schools salivating for his commitment once it was known that UVM was out of the picture. Word is he narrowed his choices to UMass, Denver and SCSU ultimately deciding on the Huskies on August 9th. This is certainly an outstanding commit for the Huskies in a highly skilled, exciting player with tremendous upside potential as a collegiate player.
Okabe appears to be headed back to skate for the Grand Prairie Storm in 2018-19. He could join the Huskies for the 2020-21 or 2021-22 season.