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Switzerland edges Smile Japan to earn fifth-place finish

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Switzerland defeated Smile Japan 1-0 in the fifth-place game at the Kwandong Hockey Centre on Tuesday night.

Evelina Raselli picked up a loose puck for a breakaway and beat Nana Fujimoto to the stick side just 3 minutes and 19 seconds into the game for the only score of the night.

The loss dropped Japan to 2-3 in its final game of the Olympic tournament.

Switzerland goalie Florence Schelling shut out Japan for the second time, stopping 20 shots in the win.

The Swiss blanked Japan 2-0 in their second Group B preliminary-round game on Feb. 12. Switzerland advanced to the quarterfinals here but were eliminated by the Olympic Athletes from Russia 6-2 on Saturday.

Japan beat Korea 4-1 in its final preliminary-round game, then downed Sweden 2-1 in overtime on Sunday.

Switzerland is ranked sixth in the world in the IIHF rankings, while Japan is ninth.

“We kept strong throughout the game, but they had a great goalie,” Japan defender Akane Hosoyamada stated. “We could not get any second shots against her even though we had the puck in their end a lot.”

Japan’s reserve players saw the majority of the action in the game.

The first period was a hectic affair with both teams unable to convert on several good scoring opportunities outside of the one Swiss goal. Japan had a pair of power-play chances but could not capitalize.

Japan outshot Switzerland 10-7 in the opening period.

The second period was scoreless. Japan outshot the Swiss 7-1 but was unable to find the net.

Japan had two more power-play chances in the second.

Fujimoto was under serious pressure early in the final period as Switzerland looked to put the game away. She made some great saves throughout the night, but especially in the third.

Both teams appeared fatigued in the final 10 minutes as the game took on an air of inevitability.

Japan pulled Fujimoto with two minutes left to bring on an extra attacker but could not get the equalizer.

“We had our chance to score today but could not,” Japan coach Takeshi Yamanaka said. “They got the first goal and that made it tough on us.”

Yamanaka then evaluated his squad’s performance in the tournament.

“I’m proud that we won against Sweden. We did what we prepared to do,” Yamanaka noted. “But it’s not good that we lost to Switzerland twice.”

Fujimoto cited the consistency of the team members as a reason for Japan’s success here.

“Because we had much of the same team from Sochi we had good communication,” Fujimoto commented. “We have had a big development in our teamwork and activity in the past four years. Our performance here was satisfactory compared to four years ago.”