Japan earthquake hit during U.S. sledge hockey game

The most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan hit with about two minutes left in the first period of a U.S. National Sledge Hockey Team game in Nagano. The devastation was hundreds of miles away, but the team still felt the impact at the Big Hat, site of the 2011 Japan Para Ice Sledge Hockey Championship.

"We felt the earthquake up in the stands and our coaches felt it on the bench, though some of the players on the ice said they could not feel anything. A giant grouping of speakers that hang above center ice began swaying back and forth, however, as a clear indicator," said Alex Clark, manager of media relations, who is with the team in Nagano. "Play was stopped for about 10 minutes before the all-clear was given and the game continued."

After the first period, Clark went to the media room and found the tournament volunteers conferring. The team's host had informed them just that morning that earthquakes were common in Japan; Nagano having experienced one days earlier.

Soon, reports of the devastation left in the magnitude-8.9 offshore quake's wake reached the arena. The coaches were told after the second period; the players were informed after the game.

Clark said the quake's magnitude in Nagano was measured between 3-4 on the Richter scale. Still, Japanese officials were assessing damage (if any) to the Big Hat Arena, where the 1998 Olympic hockey tournament was played.

Said Coach Dan Brennan to USAHockey.com: "At this point there is no plan to cancel the event because we wouldn't be able to get out early even if we wanted to because Tokyo is a mess right now."

According to Clark, who emailed us earlier today before any aftershocks hit, the scene in Nagano is calm despite the devastation in other parts of the nation. "There seems to be very little panic. I think most people's thoughts are on Northeastern Japan and any family they may have there."

Click here for ways to help those affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

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