SOCHI, RUSSIA – Japan’s bid for a medal in women’s hockey got off to a slow start with a 1-0 loss to Sweden in their opening preliminary-round game at Shayba Arena on Sunday.
Sweden scored the game’s only goal in the opening period on a power play by forward Jenni Asserholt in a defensive battle. Sweden goalie Valentine Wallner stopped 19 shots in the victory.
With 7 minutes and 28 seconds left in the first period, defenseman Ayaka Toko was sent to the penalty box for tripping. Sweden then wasted little time capitalizing on the opportunity, with defenseman Emma Eliasson firing a slap shot from the point that was deflected by Asserholt past Japan goalie Nana Fujimoto.
“I should have moved my stick better because it bounced off it and went in,” said Fujimoto, who made 22 saves in the defeat.
“It doesn’t matter who scores the goals as long as we win,” Asserholt stated. “It’s nice to get off to such a great start. Emma shot from the blue line and I managed to get a touch to put it into the net.”
Team Japan’s first power-play chance came with six minutes left in the second period after a roughing penalty on Cecilia Ostberg, but it was unable to take advantage of it. Japan came close when captain Chiho Osawa hit the post and Wallner saved a shot on the rebound.
Japan pressed hard for an equalizer in the final period, but it wasn’t to be.
“They had one shot that hit the post, but I knew it would hit it. That’s goaltender’s intuition,” said Wallner. “It was a special game for me as I’ve never played Japan before. I was impressed by them.”
“Sweden is high in the ranking and we gave everything to beat them, but unfortunately we didn’t quite make it,” commented defenseman Yoko Kondo.
Kondo said that Japan, which is competing in the women’s ice hockey tournament for the first time since the 1998 Nagano Games, is still striving to make the quarterfinals.
“We will do our best to get there,” she stated. “We failed in the first step, but it is still our aim.”
Japan will next face host Russia on Tuesday.