All for one

Japan's women's U18 team returns to top division


Japan had an impressive run through the Division I tournament, and will look to take the next big step in its development at the 2014 U18 Women's World Championship. Photo: Andy Mueller / freshfocus

ROMANSHORN, Switzerland – Japan has earned promotion and will return to the top division thanks to a 3-2 victory over Norway at the 2013 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship Division I. Chisato Miyasaki scored the game winner, preserving Japan’s undefeated record in the 2013 tournament.
“We may not be the biggest team, but we’re fast and we were able to perform well today,” said Miyasaki.

Tied at 1-1 following the second intermission, Rui Ukita scored her fourth goal of the tournament, firing a shot from top of the left circle near the boards that beat the Norwegian goaltender stick side giving Japan the 2-1 lead. But Norway answered right back three minutes later when Andrine Furulund found Susanne Haug open in the slot for the tying goal. Then late in the third, with the teams tied 2-2 and Norway needing a victory in regulation time, Japan closed the door when Miyazaki coasted through the neutral zone and outpaced the defender to fire a shot past Norway's goalie, scoring the insurance goal for the Japanese.

“Our speed is our big plus and we knew that we had to skate,” said Team Japan assistant coach Mark Mahon, who is also the head coach of the men’s national team. “I thought we started a little hesitant and we got behind for the first time in this tournament. You never know how a team is going to react when it gets behind but we just kept playing our game and got the goals we needed.” Despite outshooting Norway and maintaining the majority of puck possession, Japan was unable to solve goaltender Toini Veronica Nielsen in the first period. While managing just six shots on net, the Norwegians went up 1-0 at 11:47 when Defenceman Marlene Gunther made a cross-ice pass to Madelen Rognaldsen streaking through the neutral zone. Rognaldsen made a move to cut into the middle of the ice past the Japanese defenceman and fired a wrist shot that went under goaltender Akane Konishi’s glove for the 1-0 score. Despite the goal Japan kept up the offensive pressure into the second frame, nearly equalizing eight minutes in when Nana Hattori wove in and out of two Norwegian defenders and fired a shot that glanced off the crossbar. But the team’s persistence paid off with a tying goal from Ayuko Aoki two minutes later. Her shot appeared to hit the crossbar, but was ruled a goal by the referee. Despite narrowly missing out of making the top division for the first time Norway comes out of the tournament an improved team, one that still managed to make a little history by defeating Switzerland for the first time ever, and will be aiming again for the top division next year.

“We’re really proud of how the girls came out today,” said Norway head coach Laura Rollins. “Japan have a lot of little, quick skaters and we knew that we had to come hard against them. We still have a young team and we’re gonna come back with a lot of the same kids next year.” As for Japan, the team returns to the top division a year removed from being relegated. The tournament was a successful one on all sides for a offensively talented Japanese squad that went undefeated and featured the tournament’s top three scorers – Ayuko Aoki, Haruka Toko, and Rui Ukita – who combined for 19 points in five games. “The top division is everybody’s goal obviously and it’s a tremendous success story, because even though you think you’re the favourite going in you still have to get the job done," said MAhon. "We’re only losing a couple of players next year and I think with this experience we know can go into the top division and play our way and continue to develop the women’s game in Japan.”

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