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Chiefs’ Yamamoto feels right at home

Spokane Chiefs logo (The Spokesman-Review)

At first, Keanu Yamamoto told his hometown Spokane Chiefs that he didn’t want to play for them.

The Chiefs took a stab instead at Keanu’s younger brother, Kailer, and selected him in the fifth round of the Bantam Draft last May.

Lo and behold, Keanu Yamamoto is now playing for the Chiefs.

“I was going to go to college at first,” Keanu said. “The first year (the Chiefs) invited me to camp I said I wasn’t going to come. But they invited me again this year and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Yamamoto is one of nine rookies and seven 17-year-olds on the Chiefs’ roster (Adam Hascic, 16, will make it eight in three weeks). Yamamoto is the only Chief who hails from Spokane, or Washington, for that matter.

There could be two Yamamotos on the roster in the future. Kailer is playing for the Los Angeles Junior Kings’ U16 AAA team, where Keanu played the previous two seasons.

Keanu is following in the steps of Spokane’s Tyler Johnson, the former Chief from Central Valley High who now plays in the NHL for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I worked out a few times with (Johnson) this summer,” Yamamoto said. “I didn’t talk to him that much, but he just said to give it your all at Chiefs camp. A few tips, nothing big.”

Yamamoto’s family hockey background was limited to his older cousin, whose interest in the sport influenced Keanu to start skating at age 2. Yamamoto joined his first hockey team by age 4 or 5.

His father, Russ, a Rogers High graduate who favored soccer and motorcycle racing, drew inspiration from his son and started playing recreation hockey.

“Sometimes I go out and skate with the rec leagues,” Keanu said. “It’s older guys, so it’s fun.”

Mother LeAnn, who attended Mead High, is a marketing specialist for Spokane County while sister Kyra, 22, lives in Portland.

Yamamoto played for the Spokane Junior Chiefs and Kent Valley Hockey Association near Seattle before taking his game to California.

The Mead High School student figured he had a good chance to make this year’s Chiefs roster after his performance in the team’s annual Red-White scrimmage game. He assisted on a goal scored by his little brother.

Yamamoto picked up his first Western Hockey League point during Wednesday night’s 6-4 loss in Portland, assisting on a late power-play goal that made the score 5-4.

His parents and friends figure to be in attendance tonight when Spokane (5-1-0-0) plays its second home game of the season, against the potent Kelowna Rockets (5-0-0-1).

“It’s nice playing in the hometown,” Keanu said. “It’s a great honor.”

As for whether he was named after “Matrix” star Keanu Reeves, Yamamoto hasn’t given it much thought.

“I don’t know how I got it, actually,” he said. “(My parents) just said they like that name.”