SAPPORO – Japan made the most of a fast start to defeat China 6-1 and win its first Asian Winter Games women’s ice hockey gold medal on Saturday, ending a run of five straight runner-up finishes at the games.
The team, known as Smile Japan, had won four straight games leading leading into the gold- medal match, scoring 92 goals while conceding none, and it looked like it would be more of the same as it jumped out a 5-0 lead in the final’s first period.
Hopes of a perfect tournament were dashed, however, when the squad conceded its first goal in the 26th minute, but the Japan’s intense focus never gave China the chance get into the game at Tsukisamu Gymnasium.
“There’s happiness and relief,” Japan captain Chiho Osawa said. “We had games in which we struggled to do what we had to do, but today was the best in terms of us managing to overwhelm our opponents for the entire 60 minutes.
“We focused on making use of our stamina and pace, and to play in their zone. We wouldn’t be going far in the Olympics if we were losing here.”
She added: “Bettering our shot accuracy is one thing (to improve), but also scoring off rebounds and putting them away.”
Pouring forward from the first minute, Japan bombarded China goaltender He Siye and controlled the ice from the get-go. The Chinese goalie denied Rui Ukita three times early but was helpless when Hanae Kubo powered home the goal that opened the floodgates in the ninth minute.
Naho Terashima slapped home a rebound in the 11th minute and Yurie Adachi smashed in a third less than two minutes later as Chinese heads dropped. Aina Takeuchi pounced for Japan’s fourth and Ukita finally got on the scoresheet at the close of the first period, dispossessing a Chinese player at mid-ice before sending the puck into the top corner.
Wasteful finishing and He’s heroics in goal saw Japan fail to make any of its 25 shots on target count in the second period. Rather it was China that netted from its only attempt in the stanza — and one of three-total shots on goal in the game — through Fang Xin.
Struggling to maintain possession, China desperately hung on but Kubo restored the five-goal cushion two minutes into the third period, cutting across from the left to sneak an effort past He.
“It was great to be able to win in an overwhelming fashion,” Kubo said. “The most difficult thing was the motivation as the (recent Olympic) qualifiers were the goal, but we had lots of interest shown in us since, and had amazing support.
“I’m of course happy with the gold, but it’s frustrating not to be able to win without conceding. Next up is the world championships (in Belfast in April) and we definitely want to win there.”