GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – Smile Japan suffered a 2-1 defeat to Sweden in their opening Group B preliminary-round match at the Kwandong Hockey Centre on Saturday night.
Japan fell behind early in the contest, then tied it late in the second period, before surrendering the decisive goal early in the third period.
Japan’s defense was solid for most of the evening, but its play on offense was marked by sloppy passing and carelessness with the puck.
Nana Fujimoto stopped 24 of 26 shots in the defeat.
“It was a tough loss. It was a game we believed we should have won,” Japan defender Akane Hosoyamada stated. “We seemed to get too excited after the equalizer in the second period and lost focus.”
Sweden grabbed a 1-0 lead just over two minutes into the opening period when Fanny Rask beat Fujimoto with a shot from the point.
Sabina Kuller and Olivia Carlsson assisted on Rask’s goal.
Japan had a power-play opportunity shortly after falling behind in the first but was unable to capitalize.
Japan staged an incredible assault on Sweden goalkeeper Sara Grahn beginning with just over five minutes left in the second period. Japan directed shot after shot in the vicinity of the net, but couldn’t find the mark before Rui Ukita finally scored from point-blank range with 3:08 remaining to equalize.
Hanae Kubo assisted on Ukita’s goal.
Japan killed off two power plays in the second period.
“We didn’t have a good work rate in the opening period,” commented defender Ayaka Toko. “We had trouble finding our rhythm and flow tonight. After we tied it, we were unable to capitalize in the final period.”
Sweden took a 2-1 lead just under two minutes into the final period when Sara Hjalmarsson blasted home a wrister from close in on the right side off a beautiful back pass by Erika Grahm.
Japan nearly leveled again with just over 15 minutes left when Hosoyamada fired a pass from the point toward a teammate in front of the Sweden goal and the puck ricocheted off a Sweden player and into the grasp of goalie Grahn.
Grahn stopped 30 of 31 shots in the victory for Sweden.
Japan squandered three power plays in the third period, including one in the final minute. Japan pulled Fujimoto for a two-player advantage but still could not find the equalizer as time ran out.
“We have to keep our heads up and focus on winning these next two matches,” Hosoyamada said. “We can’t get too down about this one tonight.”
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived during intermission between the second and third periods and was swamped by fans as he moved to his seat on the opposite side of the arena.