Aiming for Group A
by Liz Montroy|04 SEP 2022
Japan's Yoshino Enomoto and Finland's Jenniina Nylund battle for the puck in the teams' preliminary-round encounter.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

This tournament, Finland has found themselves in a situation they’ve never been in before – playing not for gold, silver or bronze, but for fifth place. 

Following a quarter-final loss to Czechia, Finland is now competing in the placement round, and will meet Japan on Sunday morning for their final game of the tournament. The winner of this game will return to Group A for the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, joining the United States, Canada, Switzerland and Czechia. The loser will finish in sixth place and play in Group B in 2023 along with Sweden, Hungary, Germany and France. This is the second Women’s World Championship in a row that this placement round format is being used.

“I think we have to be better at that game and be better than this game,” Finland's Susanna Tapani said following their first placement round against Hungary, a 3-2 overtime win. “We weren’t our best [against Hungary] and it’s going to be a harder game for sure. We’re going to play for the A Group, so it’s very important for the future.”

Finland will be without Ronja Savolainen, who was suspended for one game for an illegal check to the head and neck. Finland took just one penalty in their preliminary round game with Japan, and they will want to keep their time in the box short for this game as well; Japan finally got more opportunities to test out their power play against Sweden on Saturday, and they delivered with three goals.

But for Finland, the objective and game plan is simple. They want to stay in Group A – they’ve always been among the top nations in Women’s Worlds history. When asked what his focus is going to be with his team heading into the game, Finnish head coach Juuso Toivola’s answer was short and to the point: “To win the game.”

Japan’s players recognize that this will be a difficult one. In their preliminary match-up with Finland that took place just over a week ago, the Finns outshot Japan 51-20 and won 9-3. A high point in the game for Japan was an impressive performance from the Shiga sisters, who were responsible for all of Japan’s goals (Akane scored two, and Aoi one).

“Of course tomorrow is a tough game, so every team member is focused in the same direction, to just keep trying,” Makato Ito said following Japan’s placement game win over Sweden. Last time they played Finland, the Japanese were missing four skaters, but this time around they should have almost a full bench; on Saturday, just defender Kohane Sato was not dressed.

Against Sweden they proved that they can rally back from a three-goal deficit; Japan scored three power-play goals in the second period to tie the game, which they eventually won 5-4. However, as Ito mentioned, Japan’s perseverance will be put to the test.

Japan has never finished higher than sixth in the Top Division, which they achieved last year, winning their first placement game against Czechia before falling 2-0 to ROC in the fifth-place game. Qualifying for this final game ensures that they will at minimum equal that best-ever result. 

Following losses to Japan and Finland on Saturday, Sweden finishes seventh and Hungary finishes eighth, an improvement for both teams compared to their last appearance in the Top Division (ninth for Sweden in 2019 and ninth for Hungary in 2021).