Head game
by Erin Brown|14 JAN 2023
Defender Alessia Baechler scored both goals in Switzerland's 2-1 win.
photo: Chris Tanouye / IIHF
In the end, it was Switzerland by a head.

Alessia Baechler scored twice as the Swiss defeated Japan, 2-1 and swept a three-game relegation series to remain in the top division at the IIHF U18 Women's World Championship.

She scored the go-ahead goal with 8:27 left in the third period. Her shot from the left circle hit the helmet of Japan's Harua Umemori and arced over goaltender Ririna Takenaka and into the top corner of the net.

"I just faked a shot, pulled it back, and tried to shoot the puck to the net for a rebound. Luckily it went in," Baechler said. "I think it bumped into two Japanese players. We're really happy because the win was very important."

"It was a lucky goal," Switzerland coach Melanie Haefliger said. "We had chances before. Japan also had chances. We know it can go that way on both sides. This evening we are the lucky team and we are proud."

Baechler also scored a power-play goal in the first period to open the scoring.

With Japan's Komomo Ito in the box for an illegal hit, Switzerland's Alena Rossel and Ivana Wey exchanged a cross-ice pass at the blue line before setting up the defender in the high slot. Baechler teed up a shot which got through traffic and over Takenaka's right shoulder at 12:31.

Japan battled back, tying the game at 11:32 of the second period on a tally by Sophia Odermatt.

Moments after the Japanese killed off a delay of game penalty, Odermatt skated in on a breakaway from the right side, cut across the front of the net and beat Benderer blocker-side.

"I was pretty nervous when I had a breakaway," Odermatt said. "I knew the goalie was tall, so I just continued and shot and it went in."

The goal ended Benderer's shutout streak at 91:38. She finished with 18 saves.

"This was the hardest game," Benderer said. "I think it was very important to stay calm and keep the team in the game."
Japan vs Switzerland (Rel. 2) - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship
JPN SUI 14 JAN 2023
Japan's Azumi Numabe nearly put the Japanese ahead with a shorthanded breakaway with 16:05 left in the third period, but was denied by Benderer. The goaltender came to the top of her crease to challenge and disrupted the play.

Benderer delivered another key save with 3:47 remaining, sliding across just in time to deny Cocoro Gotoh on a point-blank chance at the right side of the crease.

"It was close, but my players helped me," Benderer said.

"We showed them some nerves," Haefliger said. "We had some shaky legs. It was so important to have Talina in our net."

After struggling in the first game to contain Japan's speed, the Swiss were more cautious about in their puck possession game to limit opportunities.

"We tried not to shoot into their shin pads so they wouldn't get blocked shots . They are really fast on breakaways," Baechler said. "Every time they get a breakaway, they are really dangerous. We're happy Talina had a great performance today. She held us in the game multiple times."

"This was our the best game of the tournament," Japan coach Yujiro Kasahara said through a translator. "Our shooting was a little bit less than Switzerland. On defense and in front of the net we needed to be stronger, be more physical."

Japan pulled Takenaka with two minutes to play, but only generated one scoring chance.

Switzerland, which will host the 2024 IIHF U18 Women's World Championship, essentially salvaged their opportunity to play before a home crowd. Haefliger said the event will be important for the growth of girls and women's hockey.

"For us it is very important to have a top division U18 World Championship in Switzerland," Haefilger said. "It means a lot. We are so happy to host good teams and we are so excited to make it a big event for everyone."

Added Baechler: "It's really important we can stay in the top division for the future of girls hockey in Switzerland, especially having the tournament at home. There are going to be more people coming to watch the game, more attention for this tournament next year."

Baechler, Benderer and forward Ivana Wey were named as Switzerland's top players for the tournament. Japanese defender Kohane Sato and forwards Umemori and Nagomi Murakami earned similar honors.

Japan finished the tournament without a victory in five games and was outscored 20-6 in the tournament. It will return will return to Division I-A next year.

"We couldn't win any games in this tournament," Odomatt said. "I still have next year, so I hope the team can improve more and we'll try our best in Division I."
Japan vs Switzerland (Rel. 2) - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship