Czech captain Alena Mills scored her 2021 Women's Worlds-leading fourth goal and fifth point. Noemi Neubauerova shone with a goal and an assist, and Dominika Laskova and Katerina Mrazova added singles.
Asked what the Czechs would take out of this effort, Neubauerova enthused: "Definitely a lot of confidence! I think we needed this game. All of us played great. We're just gonna take everything that we did today with us into the next games."
This was billed as a duel between elite Group B contenders and arguably the group’s best two goalies in Klara Peslarova and Nana Fujimoto. Both women have started every game for their respective teams thus far. The 24-year-old Peslarova, who plays for the SDHL's MODO Hockey, earned her first Women's Worlds shutout ever with 24 saves.
"It feels pretty good," said Peslarova. "I'm so grateful to the girls. They helped me and I helped them."
Japan's work ethic wasn't an issue. Coach Yuji Iizuka's crew outshot the Czechs 24-20. But the magic touch around the net just wasn't there for Japan, which aspires to improve on its peak seventh-place finishes of 2008 and 2015.
"We had a good start, but we missed our scoring chances," said Iizuka. "On the other hand, the Czech team actually made good on their scoring chances. That's the difference."
Capitalizing on a neutral zone turnover, Neubauerova – a 21-year-old Colgate University forward who is one of six Czech skaters currently affiliated with NCAA teams – busted into the Japanese zone on the right side. She passed the puck to herself off the side boards, and then cut in to find Laskova on the doorstep. Laskova paid the price to put the puck in.
"I chipped it off the boards and then skated with it, and I saw 'Laska' in front of the net," said Neubauerova. "My instinct was just like, 'Yep, pass it there!' I know 'Laska' is great in those situations and can score. And she did so great."
Shots favoured Japan 12-4 in the first, but the Czech lead stood up.
"We felt really good after the first period," said Czech coach Tomas Pacina. "Yes, the Japanese got some shots. But we were playing our game, and we were matching their work ethic, their skating. We were playing according to our principles in our playbook. We knew this was going to be a very difficult game. We knew we'd be challenged in all areas. There were a few tactical things that we addressed. But philosophically and in terms of mental preparation, we were ready today."
In the second period, the Czechs picked up their pace with more offensive zone time, and it paid off. Tereza Vanisova looped around Fujimoto’s net and tried a wraparound at the goalie’s left post. The puck slid to Neubauerova on the far side of the crease. She made no mistake for a 2-0 lead at 3:02.
As the period wore on, Fujimoto had to be sharp to foil the Czechs off the rush when Mrazova, the 2021 SDHL MVP with Brynas IF, left a drop pass for Natalie Mlynkova, who unleashed a quick shot from the high slot. The Czechs sacrificed their bodies to preserve the lead. Klara Hymlarova dropped to block Ayaka Toko’s blast from the right point.
"In the second period, they played more aggressively and were more difficult to control," Ayaka Toko said of her opponents.
Entering this game, the Czechs boasted the tournament’s most effective power play, going 4-for-11 through two games (36.6 percent). Unsurprisingly, Mills, who had a hat trick in the 6-1 win over Denmark, scored at 11:43 on a long power play shot that was a mirror image of her handiwork in the opener.
The Japanese came achingly close to smashing Peslarova’s goose egg with under seven minutes left in the middle frame. On a 2-on-1, Haruka Toko raced down left wing and sent a behind-the-back cross-ice feed to Hikaru Yamashita, whose goal against Denmark gave Japan a 1-0 victory. But Yamashita, battling in tight, just couldn’t jam the puck over the line.
"The Czech goalie was stable and played with high quality, preventing rebounds," said Japanese veteran Haruna Yoneyama. "We created more opportunities than goals."
In the third period, it took just 1:17 for Mrazova to make it 4-0, taking a sweet pass from Mlynkova, stickhandling unobstructed to the net with a little kick, and beating Fujimoto with a crafty backhand deke.
Peslarova shut down Yamashita again on a breakaway with just over two minutes left to preserve her shutout.
"We really stepped up after the [4-2] game against Hungary and played our best," said Peslarova.
This was the third all-time Women’s Worlds meeting between these two nations. The Czechs have never lost to Japan. They won 3-2 on Hymlarova’s shootout goal on 31 March 2016 in Kamloops and 3-1 on Vendula Pribylova’s eventual second-period winner on 8 April 2019 in Espoo.
Japan will aim to get back in the wins column versus Hungary on Tuesday. The Czechs finish off their preliminary round slate on Wednesday versus another unbeaten team in Germany.
"This is where the growth of the team comes in," said Pacina. "This is where the great teams can carry it on. We had a big meeting yesterday with the girls. And let me tell you, it was not very positive! But I think they went really deep, discussed it, and responded well today. So I'm positive that we will be able to carry this on because we will need the same performance against Germany."