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Switzerland all but ends Japan’s hopes of women’s ice hockey medal

Kyodo

Japan fought hard but was unable to overcome Switzerland in the women’s ice hockey competition on Monday, falling 3-1 in its second preliminary round match and seeing its hopes of advancing all but dashed at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Japan suffered its second defeat in a row in Group B. Only the top two teams in the group advance to the quarterfinals.

Forward Sara Benz scored a pair of goals for Switzerland, but goalie Florence Schelling may have been the most valuable player for the world No. 6 on a night when the shot count favored Japan 38-18.

After a scoreless first period, Benz broke the game open in the second, displaying a ruthlessness that was sorely lacking from ninth-ranked Japan’s attack.

The 25-year-old opened the scoring in the 31st minute, flicking a shot past Japanese goalie Nana Fujimoto from the right face-off circle. She doubled Switzerland’s lead three minutes later, beating Fujimoto one-on-one after a long pass from Christine Meier found the forward streaking toward the Japanese goal.

Japan kept the shot count for the period close, trailing just 11 to 13, but few of its efforts presented a challenge for Schelling.

Alina Muller added the third for Switzerland in the 45th minute, intercepting a pass in her own defensive zone before skating the length of the ice and beating Fujimoto with a flick from the right face-off circle.

Japan struck back three minutes later with a goal from forward Hanae Kubo. After winning a face-off, the Japanese kept the puck in their attacking zone, and when Mika Hori played a cross from the right of goal, a lunging Kubo was able to get her stick to the puck and redirect it into the roof of the net.

With time running out, the Japanese threw everything at their opponents, but Schelling was up to the challenge. She repelled repeated attempts on goal including a barrage of 20 shots in the final four minutes when Japan pulled its goalie to bring on an additional attacking player.

Japan started the game at the Kwangdong Hockey Centre energetically, forcing Schelling to make her first save after just 40 seconds, when Haruka Toko made an errant shot.

The speedy Japanese dominated every aspect but the scoreboard in the opening period, taking seven shots to Switzerland’s one. The majority came in a 1 minute, 30 second stretch when they had a two-woman advantage after Swiss defender Sabrina Zollinger and forward Phoebe Staenz were sent to the penalty box in quick succession.

Despite scoring a highlight goal, Kubo lamented her side’s inability to capitalize on its chances.

“We missed a chance to score late in the third period, so it really would’ve been better to score at a much earlier stage when there were other opportunities which could’ve changed the momentum of the game,” she said.

Japan’s next opponent is the unified North and South Korean side on Wednesday, and the players are confident of securing the women’s team’s first victory at an Olympic tournament.

“We can’t advance to the final round but we want to bounce back and aim for a win,” Kubo said. “We’ll definitely get a victory in our next game.”

Switzerland, which is undefeated after beating the Koreans 8-0 in its opening match, will next face Sweden, which beat Japan 2-1 on Saturday.