ROC wins, stays in Group A
by Andrew Podnieks|31 AUG 2021
ROC and Japan faced off this afternoon for a place in Group A at the next Women's Worlds.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
ROC defeated Japan 2-0 this afternoon to claim 5th place in the final placings. The win ensures ROC will remain in Group A for the next IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship while Japan, finishing 6th, will stay in Group B. 

Valeria Merkusheva stopped 21 shots for the shutout while her teammates fired 23 at Nana Fujimoto.

Although the Japanese end their tournament on a losing note, they won four of seven games in regulation, their best performance ever at the WW. And although they have never been in the top group, their 12 total goals is also a team best at the Women’s Worlds (11 in 1990).

"We feel like we now have some  players who can put the puck in the net, but it's a smaller number," said Akane Hosoyamada. "We need more scorers, but I think we have the potential. You saw in this tournament we skated up ice with the puck really well and got some chances, but we didn't finish around the net as much as we need to."

ROC, which lost the bronze-medal game to Canada two years ago, won only three of seven games, the most disappointing of which was the 3-2 overtime loss to Switzerland in the quarter-finals. But they remain in Group A as they have every year (excepting 2013) since the IIHF moved to a vertical format for the tournament in 2012.

"Obviously, we are disappointed in how the tournament went for us," acknowledged ROC forward Alexandra Vafina. "We'll take 5th place, which is good, but I feel like maybe it wasn't in our favour to play in the summer. We learned a lot and have time now to work on our mistakes to prepare for the Olympics. We can do better. We'll be ready."
ROC vs Japan (5th) - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship
ROC JPN 31 AUG 2021
ROC got the only goal of a tame opening period, and it came off a giveaway in centre ice. Valeria Pavlova scooped up the loose puck and went in on a two-on-one, but she had plenty of time to aim and fire, and wired a hot shot over the blocker of Fujimoto at 7:09.

Japan’s best chance came off a fine rush by Haruka Toko, but she fired wide as she drove to the net. Toko was a force in the second period as well, creating two more great scoring chances with her slick stickhandling and setting up Rui Ukita for another. Ukita’s sharp-angle one-timer was gloved nicely by Merkusheva, who anticipated the pass from Toko and covered the angle expertly.

Japan's failure to capitalize on its chances finally caught up with them in the third when Viktoria Kulishova snapped a shot past Fujimoto from the slot off a nice feed from Vafina at 11:48. That more or less sealed Japan's fate.

Nevertheless, coach Yuji Iizuka pulled Fujimoto with more than three minutes to play, and the Japanese had several great chances to score at least once, but a lack of touch around the net did them in again. ROC also missed the empty net with a number of decent chances, and the score ended 2-0, good enough for ROC but a disappointing finish for the Japanese, who had defeated the Czechs, 3-2, to qualify for this game.
ROC vs Japan (5th) - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship