TOMAKOMAI, HOKKAIDO – The Japanese women’s ice hockey team qualified for next year’s Pyeongchang Olympics on Sunday with a 3-1 victory over Germany.
Moeko Fujimoto, Shoko Ono and Hanae Kubo scored for Japan, which qualified for its first sport at Pyeongchang next February. Smile Japan will make its second successive Winter Games appearance in hockey and its third overall counting the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
With Sunday’s win in Hokkaido, Japan topped Group D with nine points from three games. Germany, which made it a 2-1 contest late in the second period through Tanja Eisenschmid’s goal, ended up second with five.
France beat Austria 3-1 earlier to finish third with four points, while the Austrians ended up last without a single point.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Japan coach Takeshi Yamanaka said. “The team put on a fantastic display. We saved the best for last.
“I thought we were a little bit uptight in the first two games. But we played good hockey tonight the way we’re capable of playing.”
In Pyeongchang, Japan will be looking for its first win in women’s hockey, having lost all of its games in both Nagano and Sochi.
“This is not our goal by any means,” captain Chiho Osawa said. “We want to win at the Olympics, not just participate, and we’ll keep working toward that.”
Fujimoto drew first blood with a goal 7 minutes and 44 seconds into the second period, before Ono put Japan up 2-0 three minutes later.
Eisenschmid pulled Germany within one with less than four minutes left in the period. Veteran Kubo re-established Japan’s two-goal lead in the third period with her tournament-leading fifth, as Japan hung on for its third victory in as many games.
Eight teams will compete in women’s hockey in Pyeongchang. Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the United States have already qualified, with South Korea in automatically as the host nation.
Switzerland and the Czech Republic in Group C qualifying will fight for the eighth and final berth.