GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – Smile Japan scored a historic victory with a 4-1 triumph over Korea on Wednesday in their final Group B preliminary-round game at Kwandong Hockey Centre.
Japan had lost 12 straight Olympic contests going back to the 1998 Nagano Games before notching the win. Japan dropped all five contests in both Nagano and Sochi, and its first two games here.
Japan fell 2-1 to Sweden on Saturday in its opening match and 3-1 to Switzerland in its second game on Monday.
“I’m really happy with the victory,” Japan captain Chiho Osawa stated. “This is a big win for the history of Japanese hockey.”
Japan played many of its reserve players through the first two periods of the contest against the combined Korean team. Ace goalie Nana Fujimoto was one of the players to get the night off.
Japan dominated possession of the puck for the most part, but Korea did have some moments of inspired play.
“We showed everybody how much we have developed since Sochi,” commented Japan defender Akane Hosoyamada. “It’s amazing to be a part of the program when it gets its first win.”
Hosoyamada, in her joyous moment, was already thinking about those who will come after her.
“The younger generation coming up in Japan will be inspired and want to be a part of the program after seeing this victory,” Hosoyamada said.
Hanae Kubo scored just over one minute into the game to put Japan up 1-0. Haruka Toko and Rui Ukita assisted on the goal.
Shoko Ono put in a rebound 3:58 into the first period on a power play to make it 2-0 for Japan. Miho Shishiuchi and Shiori Koike assisted on the play.
Randi Griffin scored in the 10th minute of the second period on a wrister after Japan goalie Akane Konishi slightly misplayed the shot to cut Korea’s deficit to 2-1.
“It was kind of a lucky bounce to be honest with you,” Griffin noted. “We had energy and momentum in the second period but lost it after that.”
Japan clinched it with 8:18 remaining in the final period on a one-timer by Shiori Koike from near the blue line. Koike ripped a shot over the left shoulder of Korea goalie Shin So-jung.
Hosoyamada and Haruna Yoneyama got assists on the score.
Japan added an empty-netter with 1:27 left in the game when Ukita stole the puck and skated in unchallenged for the score.
Japan outshot Korea 13-4 in the first period, 13-3 in the second and 44-13 overall.
Konishi explained that it was a challenge to keep focused because of Japan’s dominance in puck possession.
“I’m pleased we won. It was difficult to keep focus with the puck in the other zone so much,” Konishi stated. “Everyone in our defensive zone blocked well and kept their minds on the game.”
The North Korean cheering section was out again in force vociferously backing the home side.
Griffin admitted that Korea really wanted to win this game.
“This was definitely our most important game,” Griffin commented. “I’m proud of the way the team played today. We had a few other shots that could have gone our way.”
Shin made several fine saves during the game to prevent Japan’s margin of victory from being even greater.
Japan coach Takeshi Yamanaka, though clearly pleased with the result, thought that his team should have scored more.
“We had several other opportunities to score, but were unable to convert them,” Yamanaka said.
Hosoyamada said playing in the Olympics has been fantastic for her.
“Just having this experience and being around the atmosphere and the Olympic rings has been amazing,” Hosoyamada stated.