This was only the fifth-ever meeting between the teams, and their first in a Group A preliminary round. The Czechs won the first three but Japan won the last meeting, at the 2021 Women’s Worlds.
Czechia has just a little more than 24 hours to prepare for a game against Canada tomorrow night while the Japanese will also face Canada next, on Saturday.
"I thought we started really well in the first period and then maybe relaxed a bit in the second and gave them too much space," said Czechia captain Alena Mills. "That's something we need to learn from, be more consistent and not let off on the pressure. But it was the first game of the tournament, and we're working our way in, wanting to prove that we belong in Group A. We had some chances that we could have capitalized on. Their goalie played great, but we should attack the middle more and shoot the puck."
"We thought we were equally with them today, but we needed to get more shots on goal," offered Japan's veteran coach Yuji Iizuka. "Overall, though, we played really well. The players have a lot of confidence because we finished in the top five last year. And we have a bit more experience. We lost to the U.S. last night, 7-1, but it was also more experience. We'll take it one game at a time, but our goal is top finish in the top four and play for a medal. When you play in the lower five, there are always some nervous times which we won't have to deal with this year."
It was a goaltender's battle today, and with only one power play either way the game was decided by the women in the blue ice.
The Czechs had the better of play in the first and scored the only goal after a couple of close calls. Natalie Mlynkova gave fans the highlight of the day with a sensational move off the rush. Driving straight up the middle, she did a perfect 360 spin-o-rama inside the Japan end but her deke didn’t fool Miyuu Masuhara. Nonetheless, a great effort.
Later in the period Aneta Tejralova blasted a shot off the post, but it was Daniela Pejsova who opened the scoring with only 37.3 seconds remaining. She got the puck at the point, made a pretty deke on a Japanese player, moved in and drilled a shot under the blocker of Masuhara for the 1-0 Czechia lead.
The second was nothing if not a tight defensive battle. The first penalty of the game came early, when Rui Ukita fired the puck over the glass inside her own blue line, but Czechia couldn’t gain sustained pressure in the Japan end. Vendula Pribylova had a great chance to double the Czechia lead, but Masuhara shot out her glove to make a fine save.
Japan had its best chance of the game late in the period on a two-on-one. Hikaru Yamashita did everything right, carrying the puck in down the left side and making a perfect pass to Akane Shiga going hard to the goal. Shiga snapped a high shot that beat Blanka Skodova, but the puck ricocheted off the crossbar and stayed out.
The rest of the period was tight checking and cautious play, the next goal clearly a big one in the low-scoring game.
That goal did come, early in the third, off a Japan stick. They forced a turnover inside the Czechia blue line, and although Haruka Toko's initial shot was stopped by Skodova, Ukita was right there to knock in the rebound to make it a 1-1 game. The rest of the third was taut and tight, and set the stage for a thrilling overtime.