Japan grinds out 4th straight win
by Derek O'Brien|27 APR 2023
photo: IIHF / Catherine Kõrtsmik / Eesti Hoki

Nobody thought they could do it and, in the end, they couldn’t, but the host Estonians played their best game of the tournament so far against front-running Japan. The tournament’s most consistent team, the Japanese have shown they can win any style of game their opponents want to play, grinding out a 3-1 win that got physical at times with plenty of after-the-whistle activities.

“That’s just hockey, I enjoy it,” Japanese defenceman Jiei Halliday said about the rough going. “They’ve got the home crowd, it was a great atmosphere to play here, luckily we got the three goals and we did what we had to do to win the game.”

“This was for sure the best opponent we’ve played so far,” said Estonian captain Robert Rooba. “They’re very disciplined, they play very fast hockey, this was the hardest game for us and we definitely improved our game from yesterday. We had our chances to tie the game and couldn’t do it, but I think we played our best hockey today.”

The first period was generally defensive, although its only goal was the result of extended Japanese pressure in the Estonian end. Shogo Nakajima won a battle along the boards and, a couple of quick passes later, the puck was on the stick of Shigeki Hitosato in front of the net, and he put it through Conrad Moldor’s legs.

Early in the second period, the Japanese were forechecking hard again when Halliday let go a wrister from the point that went through a crowd and beat a screened Moldor. However, it took Estonia just nine seconds to get that one back. Erich Embrich picked off a clearing attempt along the boards and fed in front to Mark Viitanen, and he made no mistake high-glove-side on Yuta Narisawa.

Yushiroh Hirano restored Japan’s two-goal lead with less than five mintues to go in the middle frame, with a one-timer that knocked the water bottle off the top of the net.

Late in the second period, Estonia had a golden opportunity to draw close again when two Japanese penalties gave them a 5-on-3 for 1:04. However, Japan had the advantage of having the PK interrupted by the second intermission and thus the Estonians had their momentum stalled and didn’t generate much.

Held to 12 shots on goal through 40 minutes, the Estonians tried to open it up in the third period and tried to push offensively, but Japan was mostly content to keep them from generating any great scoring chances.

“We knew the crowd was going to be behind them, we knew it was going to be a tough game, we came prepared and I think we answered it,” said Japanese forward Kahei Sato.

With the win, Japan enters the final day of the tournament with a two-point lead on Ukraine. That means the Japanese need only a point from their head-to-head match-up on Saturday to win the group and secure advancement, while Ukraine will need to win in regulation time.

“We’re all looking forward but I think it’s just going to be another game,” said Sato. “We’re just going to play our game, stick to the system, keep it simple and I think we’ll be alright.”

Estonia, meanwhile, plays China on the last day and each team has five points, meaning the winner will take bronze.”

“That’s a great opportunity for us to get some hardware from here,” said Vittanen. “It’s great to play with our home crowd behind us so I expect a good game and we’re gonna go for the win.”

Estonia vs Japan - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B