TOMAKOMAI, HOKKAIDO – Smile Japan and Germany will play for a spot in next year’s Pyeongchang Olympics after both teams improved to 2-0 on Saturday in the women’s ice hockey qualifying tournament.
Ami Nakamura, Haruka Toko, Hanae Kubo and Rui Ukita all scored as Smile Japan won 4-1 and moved to the top of Group D. Germany and Japan will meet on Sunday.
The Japanese defenders allowed the French precious little possession in front of Nana Fujimoto’s goal, while the hosts’ electric passing kept their opponents on the back foot for most of 60 minutes. But Japan’s failure to capitalize on the power play proved frustrating — as did the penalties against them.
After bombarding Austria with six goals in their tournament opener, the Japanese needed just 2 minutes, 21 seconds to break the ice. Nakamura was poised in front of goal to tip in a shot from Kubo, Japan’s hat-trick heroine against Austria.
“My bread and butter is scrapping on the power plays and battling it out in front of the goal, so I did my job tonight,” Nakamura said.
After three fruitless power plays, Toko extended the hosts’ lead with an opportunistic goal 3:26 into the second period. A nice check jarred the puck loose, it fell to Toko, who skated across the face of the goal before flicking it just inside the post.
“That was such a great chance, so I absolutely wanted to score and I’m glad I could,” Toko said.
The French got on the board with 10 minutes left in the second.
Two defenders screened out goalie Fujimoto in the waning seconds of a power play, and Marion Allemoz’s shot sailed in unmolested.
After killing two more power plays in the second period, Japan restored its two-goal cushion with seven minutes left in the game, when Kubo finally cashed in on a power play opportunity.
“It would have been a lot easier if we had scored on one of those early power plays, but we got it done in the end,” head coach Takeshi Yamanaka said.
Ukita scored after 57 minutes to put the outcome beyond doubt.
In the earlier game, Germany defeated Austria 4-1. Japan leads the group with six points, while the Germans have five because they needed a penalty shootout to defeat France in their opener. The French have one point and the Austrians none.
The top team in the group will earn a spot in next year’s Olympics, along with the winner of Group C, currently being played in Switzerland.
The Germans have outshot their two opponents by a total of 90-35, while the Japanese hold an 88-45 edge ahead of their showdown on Sunday.