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Japan women’s ice hockey team secures promotion to top flight

KYODO

Japan beat Austria 4-1 for its fourth victory at the second-tier women’s ice hockey world championships on Thursday, earning promotion to the elite division.

The Japanese team, ranked seventh in the world, faced 11th-ranked Austria with both teams knotted at three wins each atop the Group A competition table.

But with the win Japan got separation, making it 12 points from four wins to secure promotion with one game remaining in the six-team tournament at Merkur Arena in Graz, Austria.

Japan had secured promotion to the top division in 2013 after finishing with a 5-0 record in the second-tier competition, but lost all five games in the elite-division world championships last year and returned to the second tier.

“We stayed calm and maintained our pace throughout the game. I felt at ease watching the third period,” said Japan head coach Takeshi Yamanaka.

Veteran forward Hanae Kubo opened the scoring for Japan with a goal 11 minutes into the first period to convert for the first time in the tournament, and added a second 3 minutes later to put Japan well on the way to the win. Rui Ukita provided assists on both goals to finish match equal with Kubo’s two-point game-high total.

Japan goalkeeper Nana Fujimoto went the distance and fended off 18 of 19 shots on goal but it was a different story at the other end. Austria starter Theresa Hornich had a horror game, letting in all four goals on 12 shots in 27 minutes of ice time. A second-period change to Jessica Ekrt slowed the Japanese, with the replacement stopper unbeaten on 16 shots on goal.

Captain Chiho Osawa, who had three shots on goal, had only good things to say about the way her team played in the April 15-21 tournament, which also serves as a qualifier for the 2018 world championships.

“I’m glad we earned promotion. This is good news. We were able to win points at crucial moments and extend our lead (against Austria). We controlled the puck a lot more smoothly than we did in other games,” said Osawa.