Japan tops Czechs to face ROC for fifth
by Lucas Aykroyd|29 AUG 2021
Japan's Rui Ukita #15 celebrates with Haruna Yoneyama #10 and Chiho Osawa #12 after scoring a second-period goal against the Czech Republic.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
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Capitalizing twice on the power play, Japan defeated the Czech Republic 3-2 in Sunday’s second placement game. The Japanese will face the ROC team prior to the medal games on Monday to determine fifth place. The winner will play in Group A at the 2022 Women's Worlds.

Win or lose against the Russians, Japan will enjoy its best finish ever after previously peaking at seventh place (2008, 2015). The Czechs finish this tournament in seventh place.

"It's very good this has happened," said Japanese coach Yuji Iizuka. "We need to keep [making this kind of progress] with the national team program. Everybody is looking forward to being in good condition for the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Akane Shiga scored Japan's third goal with 1:58 left. Hanae Kubo and Rui Ukita added power play goals earlier.

"I was so happy to score the goal, but I also missed many scoring chances," said Shiga. "I have to fix that issue for the next match!"

Czech captain Alena Mills had a goal and an assist, and Daniela Pejsova added a single to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 1:15 remaining.

"Today's game wasn't our best performance," said a tearful Mills. "I think they were the same team. They were quick on their transitions. We just weren't as sharp and they capitalized on those opportunities."

This was a tremendous duel between top netminders, pitting the Czech Republic’s Klara Peslarova versus Japan’s Nana Fujimoto. Shots favoured the Czechs 33-27.

It was a quick turnaround for both teams, who had to try to overcome their disappointment. The Czechs lost 1-0 to Finland in Saturday's quarter-finals, but Pacina wasn't interested in excuses.

"I thought Team Japan deserved to win," said Pacina. "Japan lost 10-2 [to the U.S.] yesterday [and] came back flying and were better-prepared. That's life. That's the tournament. There's no excuses. Japan was the better team."

The Czechs blanked Japan 4-0 in the group stage, but this was a tighter, tougher affair. The Japanese delivered a better 60-minute effort, although the Czechs pushed hard and made it interesting at the end.

The Czechs entered with the tournament’s most effective power play (22.7 percent, 5-for-22), but Japan’s ultra-disciplined box play rendered their first chance useless. While the Japanese aren’t the most skilled of the 10 elite teams in Calgary, they’re among the fastest-skating and hardest-working.
The Japanese got three first-period power plays in a row, looking for blasts from assistant captain Akane Hosoyamada and tips from Haruna Yoneyama in front. It was Hanae Kubo, a 38-year-old national team mainstay, who went to the net and capitalized by redirecting Aoi Shiga’s shot past Peslarova at 13:50 for a 1-0 lead.

"We know they're fast and we have to skate with them," Czech veteran Katerina Mrazova said. "I think we had too many penalties and they got momentum out of it."

The Czechs, who seemed a step behind earlier, picked it up. At 16:59, Dominika Laskova barged to the Japanese net and thought she’d scored the equalizer. The puck deflected in off her body after Sara Cajanova’s initial shot bounced up off Fujimoto. After video review, it was called back. Laskova leads all tournament defenders with four goals.

In the second period, Mills tallied her fifth goal, tying her with Finland's Petra Nieminen for the tournament lead, on a glove-side slapper through traffic to make it 1-1 at 4:07.

Nearing the midway point, Japan got a golden opportunity on a 2-0 rush after Cajanova turned over the puck at the Japanese blue line. However, Akane Shiga, who made history with Japan's first two goals ever against the U.S., couldn't fool Peslarova.

Two minutes later, Shiga created another chance with a rush down right wing and a great toe drag to cut to the slot. The Japanese were buzzing again and the Czechs were hanging on.

At the outset of a late second-period Japanese power play, Czech veteran Klara Hymlarova went down off a faceoff and twisted her leg. The play was stopped and the 22-year-old St. Cloud State forward from Opava had to be helped off.

"Klara is a huge part of the team," Mrazova said. "Of course, when something like that happens during the game, it's tough. But we tried to focus on the game. We hope she's gonna be okay."

At 16:24, Rui Ukita cashed in on that 5-on-4 with a quick release from the left faceoff circle that fooled Peslarova for a 2-1 lead.

"We scored zero goals against them in the last match," said Akane Shiga. "We focused on scoring tonight and we made it happen."

Japan returned to the power play after Ukita, driving to the net, was hauled down by Denisa Krizova. Mrazova, though, came close to knotting the score shorthanded as she rang one off the iron just before the buzzer.

Less than two minutes into the third period, Peslarova kept her team in it, stopping Yoneyama's backhand move on a clear-cut breakaway. The Japanese maintained their frenetic pace through a two-minute minor to Czech forward Kristyna Patkova, but the Czechs pushed back during a 5-on-4 of their own with Mrazova and Laskova pounding shots on net.

With under 10 minutes left in regulation, the Czechs couldn't have come any closer when Michaela Pejzlova and Laskova hit back-to-back goal posts.

Akane Shiga made it 3-1 Japan on a great individual effort, fighting off Noemi Neubauerova's backchecking to beat Peslarova for her fourth of these Women's Worlds with 1:58 left.

"She made great plays in the last match to score and also in today's," said Iizuka. "She's a key player for getting victories for Team Japan."

With the Czech goalie on the bench for the extra attacker, Daniela Pejslova cut the deficit to 3-2 with a rising wrister from just above the left faceoff circle. But Pacina's troops would get no closer.

"We have only one game left against the Russians," said Aoi Shiga. "So we're going to try to stick to our Japanese hockey to get a win against them."

Japan has already qualified for the 2022 Beijing Olympics. From 11 to 14 November, the Czech Republic will host an Olympic qualification tournament in Chomutov, facing Hungary, Norway, and a third team to be determined.

"Every single game is extremely difficult," Pacina warned. "Every team is very well-prepared. We are not going to surprise anybody. They know we are a good team and they will be prepared for us."
Czech Republic vs Japan (Pl.) - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship