YOKOHAMA – Goals by Naho Terashima and Shiori Koike powered Japan to a 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic in the opening game of the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Qualification Series on Saturday afternoon at Shin-Yokohama Skate Center.
In a hard-fought battle between two equally matched teams, Japan prevailed on Terashima’s goal in the second period and Koike’s one-time blast from the blue line in the third.
Japan goalie Nana Fujimoto was sublime in the win, making 28 saves.
Japan, ranked eighth in the world, started slowly, not mustering a shot on goal until nearly the midway point of the first period, but picked up the pace as the game progressed.
“We did not skate well in the beginning,” said Japan coach Yoshifumi Fujisawa. “It was a good performance today by Fujimoto. She is playing well.”
The Czech Republic, ranked ninth in the world, was the aggressor in the early going, but could not find the net.
“We think our team played great,” commented Czech coach Jiri Vozak. “The Japan team is well organized and great on the power play.”
The winner of the best-of-three series will play in the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Malmo, Sweden, next spring, while the loser will take part in the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A in Rouen, France.
Game 2 in the best-of-three series will be played on Sunday afternoon. If a third game is necessary, it will be contested here on Tuesday night.
Fujimoto made a pair of nice saves early in the opening period as the Czechs applied pressure.
Both teams had a power-play chance in the opening 10 minutes but were unable to capitalize.
Czech goalie Klara Peslarova had several fine saves on the afternoon, finishing with 18 saves.
After Lucie Manartova was sent to the penalty box for body checking at 13:46 of the first period, Japan kept the puck in the Czech zone and looked like it may score. However, the Czech defense rose to the occasion.
Japan’s Moeko Fujimoto hit the post with a shot from the point with just under four minutes remaining in the period.
Peslarova made a nice save just before the period ended at 0-0.
Japan had eight shots on goal in the first period, while the Czechs managed seven.
Fujimoto made a nice stick save early in the second period with the Czechs on the power play.
Japan finally broke the deadlock at 12:54 of the second period, when Rui Ukita found Terashima with a cross-ice pass and she scored with a shot from the point.
The Czechs saw a good chance to equalize stopped when Nana Fujimoto blocked a shot by Vendula Pribylova from point-blank range with 2:40 left in the second.
Japan nearly scored on a power play with 12 minutes left in the third period, only to see Peslarova bat the shot away.
Japan, which went winless at the Sochi Olympics, had a total of five power-play opportunities on the day.
With 6:06 remaining in the game, and Japan on the power play following a penalty on Katerina Mrazova, Koike took the puck at the blue line and rocketed a shot straight into the Czech net on the fly to the delight of the partisan crowd on hand.
“Our coach has been telling us how important it is to score on the power play,” stated Koike. “We knew we had to shoot quickly. I was surprised by the goal, because I have not shot so well in practice recently.”
Peslarova said she was screened out by one of her own players on Koike’s goal.
“I saw her (Koike) get the puck, but then my view was blocked and there was nothing I could do,” Peslarova said. “The loss is disappointing. We must concentrate on tomorrow now.”
Czech forward Tereza Vanisova bemoaned her team’s lack of offense in the defeat, but remains confident.
“We didn’t shoot well,” Vanisova said. “The lack of shots was our main problem. We must win tomorrow, because I think we are better than them.”
Nana Fujimoto was tired but happy after the victory.
“It was a tough game,” the goalie noted. “I’m happy we won and got the shutout. I have to improve more to play well against the stronger teams.”
Fujisawa knows that beating the Czechs a second time won’t be so easy.
“Tomorrow will be a different game,” he said. “They will come out playing hard. We must be more patient with our game.”
Vozak is already looking ahead to Sunday’s contest.
“We want to be ready for the next game and hope to win,” he stated.